Are you usually neck-deep in computers and connections, rarely looking around to acknowledge the people around you? Are your days concerned with performance monitoring, network security, and handling questions and complaints to consider what others are thinking or what they really want out of their networks and computer systems? If so, you need to learn about the people side of being a networking administrator. It's more than wires and WANs, after all.

How Strong, Healthy Relationships Can Benefit the Network Administrator

Why is it important for network administrators to step out from behind the desk and get personal? As it happens, you and everyone else in the organization has something to gain from it.

Relationships Make It Easier to Communicate with Users -- Are users too vague about what they expect and what they need? If they are speaking in overly-generalized terms, a relationship with them is an excellent way to get used to the way they communicate and to get them familiar with the way you communicate. You will likely find that after spending more time with the users in your office, their complaints and compliments and questions make more sense. You'll get a feel for and grasp of how they use your technologies and will better be able to serve their needs, which translates directly into higher levels of job satisfaction for you and higher customer service ratings for the whole IT department.

When the tech geek steps out of the back office and begins to build relationships with the people in the organization, there are numerous benefits both to the IT folks and the rest of the business.

Relationships Give the Network Administrator Better Insight Into the Business -- Managers and executives might be tight-lipped sorts, but when you take the time to develop relationships with them, they will usually divulge more than you realize. For example, they will tip you off to when big changes are upcoming, or even help shield you and your department from broad-sweeping budget cuts. Plus, you'll have a front-row seat to what the business needs are, so that you can impress the top brass with your timely and forward-thinking ideas and solutions.

Relationships Can Help Network Administrators Mitigate Security Risks -- Did you realize that the key to unlocking the insider threat is good relationships? Think about it, by developing good rapport with users, you become the go-to source for news and gossip about threats as well as users who are opening suspicious emails or are accessing dangerous websites. Your users will clue you in on these and other scary issues. Additionally, could you do something really ratty to someone who was sincerely nice to you? It's hard, and most people cannot. If you're super nice to your users, it makes it awfully hard for them to knowingly, willingly help an outsider gain access to your network or databases. Finally, you can stump the insider threat with good relationships because they will listen to you and care about your workload when they're tempted to engage in bad user practices that put your network at risk.

Users are actually less likely to do something silly that threatens your network if they have a lot of respect for and a good relationship with their network administrator.

How the Network Administrator Can Improve Organizational and Interpersonal Relationships

So, you're convinced of the importance of solid relationships, but how can you begin building them?

Be Able to Accept Negative Feedback -- Good relationships aren't always about the sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it means accepting the gripes and complaints and being humble enough to respond with kindness and using the criticism to improve network performance and other issues.

Stop Using Tech Speak Jargon -- Are you guilty of lots of tech speak that confuse and befuddle the average user? Believe it or not, it doesn't make you look smart. In fact, it can make you seem to be a jerk. Learn to communicate technical concepts in easy-to-understand ways so that users know what you're talking about and aren't scared to talk to you. Just this one change can open up worlds of opportunities in the relationship department.

Learn the Art of the Apology -- Occasionally, even the most skilled and experienced network administrator goofs up. Or, the network messes up and the administrator takes the brunt of the blame. Learn how to say you're sorry and provide a reasonable explanation for the event. This will also go light-years toward building trust and understanding between the network administrator and the departments they serve.

Be approachable when someone has to tell you something that isn't easy to say or to hear. This will make it more likely that you'll be told things you really need to know before a problem derails all your hard work.

Realize the Value of a Good Messenger ¬-- When someone approaches you to tell you about a problem, complaint, or other issue, do you have a tendency to shoot (yell at, blame, or accuse) the messenger? Start thanking them instead. The person who can't be told anything negative is kept out of the loop -- often until it's too late. Learn to thank the people who are able and willing to point out what's wrong, because those are the people who empower you to make things right again.

Remember, Honesty is the Best Policy -- Do you tend to fudge the truth a bit when it comes to telling others how much the new investments will improve performance or how secure your network truly is? Honesty is always the best policy in building relationships, even when the honest thing is not fun to hear. People will trust and respect the person who can tell them the truth, and when you do have something great to report, they'll actually believe you.

What technologies and improvements could benefit your organization today? Tomorrow? Be proactive about making improvements and changes.

Be Proactive About Changes & Improvements -- Do you wait until performance is abysmal or users are frustrated before making necessary changes and improvements? If you're going to foster goodwill and strong relationships within your organization, you need to be proactive about making progress and improvements. Fix what's wrong. Plan for the future. Bring developing technologies to the attention of decision-makers soon enough that they can set aside the budget for those new investments before the competitors do. Empower your company with a strong, up-to-date network and smart capacity planning for the future.

Find a Role Model for Effective Relationship Building -- Unsure how to build or rebuild solid, healthy relationships within your organization? Find a role model and model their behavior. Is there an executive or manager who is exceptionally gifted at building trust, fostering goodwill, and making positive connections among the other managers and workers? What do they do (or not do) that convinces people they are worthy of trust and respect? Mimic those traits, and eventually you will embody those qualities yourself.

Are you looking for more smart tips for the IT professional? Sign up to receive The Edge monthly and stay up-to-date on all the latest news, information, and how-to's for a successful organization and a more satisfying career.