One skill stands out as paramount: the ability to listen. As a UX consultant, I am continually diving into new domains, tasked with becoming a quick expert. But before I draw conclusions, design solutions, or advise any changes, I listen.
You Can Only Listen Once
You can hear things without preconceived notions or biases when you first enter a new domain. But this freshness is fleeting. As soon as you express your viewpoints, the dynamics change. Stakeholders begin to filter their words and ideas based on their perception of your perspective. This natural human tendency underscores the importance of absorbing as much as possible as early as possible.
Dive Deep with Stakeholders
Rather than rushing into the problem-solving phase, take your time to engage with the primary stakeholders. Understand their pain points, aspirations, and the dynamics of their organization. Often, these stakeholders will hint at other individuals whose insights are vital. Make a point to meet with them. A comprehensive understanding of the problem space is invaluable.
Why Am I Here?
As an external consultant, it's essential to understand the reasons behind your involvement. What prompted the organization to seek external expertise? This query helps you grasp the problem and shows respect and acknowledgment for the organization's bravery in seeking external help.
Avoid Formalities in Initial Conversations
Taking stakeholders out for coffee or dinner often yields more genuine insights than a formal meeting. When there's no pen, paper, or recording device, the conversation flows more naturally, allowing you to discern valuable information from the noise.
Navigating the Political Landscape
Everyone has a perspective, and as a consultant, it's imperative to be aware of allies and adversaries. Listen to both sides, avoid getting entangled in politics, and focus on delivering value.
Listening is not just a skill—it's an art. It's about understanding, empathy, and gaining a holistic view of the problem space. By honing this art, we can design better solutions, foster stronger relationships, and create more impactful user experiences.
Principal, Thought Merchants