As user experience professionals, we’re a passionate lot. We care deeply about the user – the customers that we design for. We look for meaning. We feel empathy, sometimes painfully so. But in our drive to help those users have meaningful interactions with the products they use, sometimes we go too far. We push beyond where we should, and we upset our teammates when our passion for those end users outweighs our apparent caring for those we work with and the businesses we work for.
When I first started my user research career many years ago, I sometimes fell into the UX purist trap—wanting to make sure I always followed the proper methodology, the proper approach—and wanting to make sure that those end users got what was best, regardless of whether it fully aligned with reality. Even when I became aware of how I could do this, it took me several more years before I was fully able to temper that tendency.
Consider your employer’s constraints
When a business hires you as a UX professional, hopefully they are hiring you because they want to do better for their customers. However, sometimes the needs of the business must come before the ideal products for those users. So I’d suggest cutting your employer some slack whenever possible. If something is over the top or you find something morally problematic, of course you can hold your ground, or you can quit. But remember that those in charge also may not like decisions they feel they must make yet they need to balance customer needs with their need to continue operating their business.
Flex your methods
You may feel that you know the best way to practice, likely based on what you’ve learned and what you’ve done previously. Just because these particular methods are ideal, however, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to always practice them in a given situation. So be flexible and adjust your methods. Feel free to caveat alternative approaches with whatever concerns you have, but then proceed with these less than ideal pathways anyway. The design or research that you produce may have limitations, so certainly make some notes for the future, when you can hopefully better approach the ideal.
Watch your words
You know inside that you are right. And you may feel so strongly that you have to argue your case to make your point and get others to see it that way too. But what sticks in their minds is going to be too much pushiness and your unwillingness to let go. So say what you want to say, but then let it go. Monitor yourself and stop pushing when you’ve clearly pushed enough.
Also, if you want to say something that could be construed as negative, say it in person if you can or at least verbally in real time. Also look carefully at the words you intend to send electronically. If anything has any possibility of being construed as negative—which is quite easy—then aim for a conversation instead. Whether verbally or something you are putting into text, make sure that the framing is as positive as you can make it.
Extend your empathy
As a UX professional, certainly empathize with your end users and represent them, but also apply that empathy to everyone you interact with: whether they are designing a frontend or a backend, and whether they are your client or your coworker, your boss or your subordinate, experienced or inexperienced, and UX expert or not.
What goes around comes around, not only to you but to your mission. Empathizing with all those around you will help you feel good, be respected, and perhaps have more success at work.
Taken one step further, creativity – at least in part – is a common UX superpower. So when you see a flaw in the system and unhappy co-workers, don’t just grumble along with everyone else. Instead, lend a hand and provide creative solutions to improve the system within existing boundaries.
Your input, engagement and UX skills can create a better workplace for everyone.
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