Strengthening soft skills — 5 ways to make people like working with you
While working in a company, you might have noticed that even if you’re doing your job 100% correctly it is not always perceived as such by your team members and stakeholders. It gets even harder when you have to present your work to multiple people within different areas of expertise (e.g. business stakeholders) or even without it (e.g. Clients). This short article focuses on the main points of why such problems occur and tips on how you can use your soft skills efficiently to achieve good relationships with your colleagues and make your daily work a joy.
Hard skills vs. soft skills
In the beginning of my career, I was stupid enough to not care much about my soft skills and focused all my efforts only on hard skills. After I started working as a designer, I tried to do my best to perfect my designs and spent countless hours improving every pixel in my UX solutions. You can imagine my frustration when most people on product teams didn’t even notice all my efforts and considered the final result to be just OK.
Feedback like that from your teammates can be really demotivating, but let’s have a look how they see it from their perspective, as they might not even realize the issue. Even though I am feeling really passionate about my designs, they’re feeling the same way about their part of the process. Let’s dig deeper in the two following examples.
Developers and tech people
As often happens, if you are working with experienced developers, they insist that your work fits nicely into company’s already existing products and services. Thus they want you to fit in, so you don’t deliver some kind of nonsense which would require a lot of time spent implementing your modern screen transition and then also test it on every display your company has in their closet. Of course, they are going to pick on all the edge cases which you probably forgot to design because you were too busy to bother, and you see all those cases as self-explanatory things that everybody understands, right? Well … actually no, as you can see, everybody sees your work from their unique perspective, and they might have totally different expertise and this is your job to present your work the right way.
What’s your best approach in this case? Study what kind of products your company has and all the guidelines. Grab your sketches and have multiple checks with tech folks whether your solution is technically feasible and in line with the goals.
Clients and business folks
When speaking with your clients and business people, don’t forget to mention what kind of monetary impact might a change may imply. The financial angle is very important in those conversations as this is one of the main factors that drives the business. Beware that if your new sexy 3D AR interaction concept would require spending lots of assets implementing it, your idea might get simply rejected and you shouldn’t be surprised why.
Also, if you do think that this change would drastically increase your product’s conversion rate and drive new money into the company, be confident to speak up and discuss your hypothesis. Ideally, at this moment, you would have already done small user testing to have some data to support your ideas.
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Adapting your presentation to the audience
Also, think about the audience to whom you’re presenting. If this is your product team, focus on all of the implementation details, consistency, and brand guidelines. If you are in front of your clients, emphasize the benefit that you are bringing to the table and how this can influence your customers.
In any case, always think about the product from their perspective and how your work is going to be perceived. Then anticipate what type of questions might occur, so you can prepare and feel confident about answering any possible questions.
Quick tip: If you want to showcase how much work and effort went into it, quickly show all your sketches, paper prototypes, and other things you were considering during the process with the interesting details that influenced your decisions. People generally tend to like those type of presentations as they can see how much dedication and effort you brought to the project. Don’t focus too much on every single detail. Remember that not everyone in the room might care how you debated about the color palette for 8 straight hours and then you got inspired by a pasta stain on your shirt.
Never say "This is my job, I know better"
From time to time, when a really heated discussion takes place, it is tempting to say that you are the one who is being paid for that, and you know your stuff better than anyone in this room. Well… Funny enough, saying this would only make everyone even angrier, and unless you want to be known as the biggest asshole of the company, you should avoid it at all costs. Here are a few reasons why.
First of all, let’s admit it, you’ve been wrong countless of times, and this is what actually made you a good expert in your field. You’ve seen a lot of problems, and you have hopefully overcome them and found the right solutions. Nevertheless, even if you are senior expert, you can still be wrong this time.
You should always have reasons why you made a decision and chose a particular way of solving the issue. Share it with the others, and they would feel confident that you are a good specialist and get a little bit of something into your trust piggy bank.
Can’t decide — do the user research
Speaking to users is one of the most valuable things you can bring to a project. So whenever you are arguing with others, and there is no clear path to choose, ask the users and get the answers from them. Prepare a few hypotheses to cover everyone’s ideas so nobody feels forgotten. Test the ideas and prepare a report to discuss it with the team. Doing so would not only prove you as a good professional who values your customers’ feedback, but also a good negotiator, as your feedback would data supporting it.
When everyone starts hating, turn the discussion around
When you’re presenting and a lot of negative feedback comes towards you, beware that you can simply turn the discussion around to brainstorm new solutions. Just stop for a second and ask your colleagues how they would solve this issue. By doing so, you are switching everyone’s context from generating tons of hate about how your solution will never work, to the context of thinking in terms of how that issue might actually get solved. Don’t forget, you’re in a room with highly qualified professionals, and this collaborative group discussion quite often could produce some outstanding results.
Be humble and composed
Yes, you should feel insanely passionate about what you’re doing, but always stay humble and composed during the meetings. Prepare in advance, and be ready to take the lead in the conversation. Be a good listener. Good ideas often happen when nobody expects them to.
Always stay calm and interested in what others are showing to you. Beware that you can easily offend and critique someone’s ideas, so appreciate their time and value their opinion. Last but not least, always stay respectful, and love what you’re doing.