“Having impeccable design skills and some technical knowledge around user-interface technologies and capabilities are just table stakes for a successful UX designer.”—Baruch Sachs, in “The Role of Soft Skills in Conveying Strategy to Executives,” a UXmatters column by Janet Six.
Enterprise product teams assume that you have these hard skills—especially teams comprising engineering-minded people. Now, in Part 2, I’ll cover six additional Rs that enable UX professionals to further demonstrate the value of User Experience to enterprise product teams:
- Respond, calmly
- Ramp up
You may have well-articulated thoughts on how to design a compelling solution, but product teams experience neither your thoughts nor your intentions. Teams experience what you communicate. UX professionals must clearly reveal the rationales behind their design decisions, or they won’t get the input they need to make improvements or pivot directions if necessary.
Often, as Tom Greever points out in his book Articulating Design, the viewpoint of the most articulate person wins. While the goal shouldn’t be to win, but to foster alignment, Greever’s argument holds true. Articulate people are more successful than their peers in revealing why a design solution makes sense. It is difficult enough to persuade people to forge new experiential ground when designing pricey enterprise software products, so being a good communicator is critical.
While the following communication tips are applicable beyond enterprise software—and even User Experience in general—they merit a prominent place in this column. Here are some tips for honing your communication skills:
- Read—a bonus R! Make the time to read frequently and broadly. The material you read doesn’t necessarily have to relate to User Experience or your domain of focus. In fact, I recommend that you explore topics outside your areas of expertise to foster lateral thinking, which is an important ingredient of being relatable and empathetic. Plus, frequent reading makes you a better writer.
- Write well. Take a class if necessary. But, in my experience, writing with diligence—and being as clear and concise as possible—will get you most of the way there. It is important to ask someone who is either knowledgeable in the product domain or is a skilled writer—ideally both—to review and provide feedback on your work, if not edit it directly. Finally, rewrite, rewrite—and when it finally seems good enough—rewrite some more. Good writing is rewriting. Apply this advice even to routine communications such as email.
- Speak publicly. Don’t shy away from speaking opportunities. While you might not be comfortable presenting to large groups of people—I can relate—you won’t achieve growth by remaining in your comfort zone. Speaking to a large audience or being interviewed in a video or podcast accomplishes several things:
- Speaking builds confidence. If you can speak publicly, it becomes easier to reveal your thoughts to product teams within less visible, less nerve-racking contexts. Having public speaking experience under your belt gives you more self-assurance as you engage with teams or others across your organization.
- Speaking builds credibility. External audiences aren’t the only ones who benefit from watching or hearing you speak—your teammates do, too. By publicly sharing your expertise on a topic, you cast yourself in a new light to team members and grow in their esteem. They know public speaking is hard, and your willingness and conviction to continue speaking says a lot about you.
- Speaking clarifies your thinking. Have you ever had a problem or an idea in your head that didn’t gain clarity until you spoke about it to someone else? Conveying your intention or an abstract concept to another person also furthers your own knowledge. The same is true for speaking publicly on a topic for which you have a passion, because it forces you to think deeply about your true intent, which in turn hones your thinking and accelerates the expansion of your expertise.
- Observe. Read the room. A great deal of communication is nonverbal. Be aware of how the words you use affect others. This is key to emotional intelligence. Did someone wince in response to something you said? Are people crossing their arms—a sign of being closed off—or smiling and nodding? Is someone absently tapping away on his smartphone screen, apparently having checked out? Good communicators adjust, and adaptability is critical if you work with a variety of teams across different organizations or even cultures and time zones. You won’t get far working with teams if you come across as lacking self-awareness. Furthermore, not all teams communicate in the same manner, so being aware of what works and what doesn’t helps you demonstrate your value.
- Lead by example. Obviously, you must do what you say you’re going to do and follow through. But go further. Arm your teams with what they need by taking the time and care to produce clearly articulated, well-designed UX specifications. Annotate your mockups and deliverables to give your rationale for your design solution. Team members care about the why behind your decisions, so reveal the quality of your thinking to them. You were paid to provide it. Doing so helps facilitate better cross-disciplinary communication, and you’ll more likely get what you need from them.