Troubleshooting People

As techs we are good at troubleshooting. It’s what makes us good at our jobs. Fixing problems and making it work is our speciality. We’re gear-heads, after all. People are something different. Often an enigma. While no one would question our IQ, some have doubts about our EQ. The very qualities that make us so good at technical tasks can be the very things that make it hard for us to work with people. This is no secret.

But what if we could use our technical prowess to unlock the power in relationships?

What if the very thing that could be seen as a weakness was our key to success?

Relationships matter

The first place to start is to decide conclusively that relationships matter. This is not a given. I know many techs who don’t really care about the relationship part of the job. Yes, we usually care about the relationships on our team, but what about among our colleagues that we may not have much in common with? Too often, we’d rather be factual than sensitive to another person’s feelings. But the truth is, we don’t have to be wrong to place an appropriate value on relationship.

Look, none of us want to be that person that everyone tolerates but no one really likes:

  • We may need their help, but we don’t want their help.
  • We don’t value their opinion or seriously consider their input.
  • We think they’re a joke and probably make jokes about them and what they say.

Instead, we want to be the kind of people who exert influence in our churches or organizations; to help make them better, more technically capable, and ultimately more effective at Kingdom work.

There are three types of influence (or power) we can exert in our churches or organizations to accomplish our work:*
Role power – This is the power we have because of our job title. As the boss, people will do what we ask, because we can fire them. We stand between them and their addiction to food, clothing, and shelter. But you don’t have to be the boss to have role power. If you stand between someone and something they may want to do, you have role power. A parent is a good example of role power, particularly as they say, “because I told you so.” This power is the weakest influencer of the three.

Expertise power – This is the power we have because of our skill. With skill and mastery comes influence. When you have expertise power, you become the go to person to solve particular challenges or weigh in on important changes. Role power comes with the job, but expertise belongs to the person. Expertise power is stronger, more readily received, and much more effective than role power.

Relationship power – This is the power we have with someone that we know well. I have great friends who have proven themselves to be incredibly reliable, caring, and committed to me.
You know who I mean:

  • they’ve sat with you at the hospital while a loved one was in surgery.
  • they show up to whatever: a holiday party or moving day.
  • they ask you the hard questions and hold your feet to the fire.
  • they make time for you because you matter to them.

If I knew that friend needed help, I would move heaven and earth to help them.
And we have work friends like that as well. People who stay late and pitch in when they don’t have to. People who go the extra mile to cover for us if we’re sick or have a family emergency. People who care about us and not just what we can do for them.
Relationship power is the strongest power on earth.

So here’s my question: do you want to be the kind of person who exerts influence in your church or organization; helps make things better, more technically capable, and ultimately more effective at Kingdom work?

The best way to do that is through great relationships with others.

Troubleshooting—step by step

It’s safe to say we all have relationships that could improve. So what are some practical things we can do to increase people skills and play nicely with others? Let’s take what we are good at (troubleshooting), and apply it to something we may not be as good at (relationships). For this analogy, let’s imagine a problem where we cannot get a signal from a computer to a projector, although it has worked before. Qualified people often take different approaches (YMMV), but let’s run through some standard troubleshooting steps and apply it to relationships.

What’s the first thing we might do?

Check the connections

If a cable is not seated properly or not plugged into the right input, it ain’t gonna work. In a relationship, if we are not connected properly with the motivations of the other person, there will always be a disconnect by definition. Have you taken the time to understand their issues? Do you understand what they are trying to accomplish?
Connections can become dirty with lint or dust or another obstruction. Are there past unresolved issues that are surfacing in today’s challenges? Don’t ignore them. Apologize. If we both are trying to accomplish something good, and we take the time to learn the other perspective, we can begin to build trust that will grow into a great relationship.

Check for warning lights

It’s possible that the projector bulb has burned out or it is overheating. If so (or a similar problem), the projector will be giving us a warning light.
Sometimes the challenges we have in relationships have nothing to do with us. Life happens. People we interact with are often dealing with very serious issues: a sick child, an aging parent, marriage challenges, trouble at school… The list is endless.
Show some compassion. Find out if something else is going on. How terrible if all I care about is my end-game and my colleague has a serious life issue happening and I don’t even take the time to find out!


A reboot is an incredibly powerful thing in a relationship that has become disconnected. It involves reseting the drama back to ground zero. For me, I do this best by taking some time. If I am at an impasse with a colleague, I might ask to table the discussion (in a larger group, ask to take the discussion off-line).
There is nothing as powerful as praying for someone that you are not getting along with. As you ask God to help them, bless them, provide for them, take care of their family, bless their ministry dreams and goals, and so on; it humbles us, changes our perspective, and allows us to reboot to a better state.
A simple reboot may be all we need to get things started on track at another time, but, as we all know, multiple reboots can be necessary after additional troubleshooting steps. Be willing to try again.

Test any in-line gear

Perhaps the signal from the computer to the projector is running through some in-line gear: an HDMI extender over Cat 5 for example. We may not have a spare one of those lying around to swap out (besides that’s the next step), we might need to use test gear and see if our in-line gear is receiving and passing signal.
I put this step in here because I don’t want to make this seem simple. Just because we understand another’s motivations, doesn’t make those motives align with ours.
We must be willing to submit to test gear. That testing standard could be scripture or the vision of the church or anything we agree on. Be willing to give and receive challenge to that standard. While the Check connections step was more about being aware of motivations, this step is more about clarifying them in order to get on the same page.

Swap out gear

If nothing else has worked, connect another computer (or another projector/monitor) and see if it will work.
If all our attempts fail, we need additional counsel. Here is something that I have learned and has really helped me: my supervisors usually have great people skills. That’s a big reason they are where they are. Our pastors have great people skills. They may not know much about technology (and maybe they do), but they definitely understand people and are great at building relationships. Ask for help! Bring in some “outside gear” and get a fresh perspective.

Sometimes things break

Troubleshooting sometimes reveals that something is broken. I may be able to find a work around, some kind of temporary patch to get us by, but if something is truly broken, troubleshooting won’t fix it. It has to go to the shop for repair. This is rare, but does happen.
One of the worst paths you can take is to keep trying to troubleshoot something that is broken. You have to jump off the hamster wheel and go to plan B.
We will work with people that we would never befriend. All the troubleshooting in the world can’t fix some relationships. This is rare, but does happen. Maintaining a courteous and Christ-like demeanor (in and out of their presence—something I can definitely work on) is plan B.


All gear requires ongoing maintenance. After a summer season off in our classrooms, we run through a system check in each of our rooms. It’s a quick check that confirms that everything is working properly, and gives us a chance to fix things before crunch time. Maintenance requires time.
All relationships also require ongoing maintenance. A quick check to make sure everything is on track is a great idea. I know as techs we can be introverted and at work we often want to be all business. Chatting with someone when they return from vacation or asking them about their weekend can feel like nails on a chalkboard. Do it anyway. Work at the ongoing maintenance of relationships. Just as our friends make time for us, make time for others. Relationships require time.

The more time you commit to maintenance, the less time you have to engage in troubleshooting.

Concluding thoughts

I believe each of us has the ability to perform great work while maintaining great relationships. The effort we invest in learning the motivation of others, caring about their life and circumstances, taking time to approach them with grace and humility, realigning ourselves to shared goals, and seeking out good counsel; will yield incredible dividends and result in a more fulfilling life.


* This concept of role power, expertise power, and relationship power comes from Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne and their fantastic Manager Tools podcast.


4 thoughts on “Troubleshooting People

  1. I enjoyed this post because it gives practical, and need advice on relationships. I value people, and it comes natural to me to establish good comraderie with those around me. Unfortunately, that’s not true for many people (whether you’re technical or not), so it was great for you to talk about how you can use the skills needed to produce a great product on your job, to cultivate great relationships!!

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