No doubt you're already practicing challenging assumptions in your user-centered work -- identifying what you think you know (or assume) about users' attitudes and actions, and finding out if those assumptions are true, or what else is true. But how often do you take that same approach towards the people you work with, and in your own career? The result can be surprising, and even transformational.
This week’s episode I’m talking about how challenging our assumptions about the motivations of others can really change the outcomes we have at work, how it can lead to creating unexpected opportunities, and build bridges of understanding. And we can use this same skill to examine our own beliefs and identify underlying motivations as well. Practicing this skill can create tremendous results for us - help us make better decisions, improve our communication, build trust, increase our influence.
Today I’m sharing insights from my career in UX leadership, and my own personal experience of relying on false assumptions.
Although it does sound quite simple, it isn’t as easy as just asking “what do you want?” It takes curiosity and openness to what we don't know and listening to find out.
What tends to happen is we start creating conclusions about what's important to others or what their goals are, because we're interpreting their words and actions through our own perspective and our own experiences.
Here is a simple practice to try next time a challenge comes up in a project or in communication or in your confidence:
By doing this simple exercise you will be able to gain more clarity on your insights and identify the truth about your assumptions. When you open your minds to looking for “what else might be true,” you can break the cycle of false assumptions held fast by false evidence.
This can be scary and out of your comfort zone, but continuing to rely on false assumptions can keep us from believing in other possibilities.
Listen to the podcast to find out more on how you can transform your results by challenging the assumptions.
You X cake is all about developing the layers you need to be more effective in your work and to be happy and fulfilled in your career. I'm your host, Lee Alan arrow Dano, and I'm a UX leader and leadership coach.
challenging our assumptions can transform our results. Hello, thank you for joining me on UX cake today. So this is a new season. And we're going to be trying some new things. And one of those things is I'll be doing some solo episodes now and again, focusing on topics that are really important to leadership in UX. And today I'm talking about challenging our assumptions and how we can really get different surprisingly better results. When we do that this topic is important to anyone really not just leaders in UX, any field or phase of life. But it really is foundational to good leadership, and leading well. And I've seen real growth and development when this is addressed with the people that I work with. And in my own career. And in my own life, I want to share with you how practicing this one thing, even just making some tweaks to what you're doing right now can create tremendous results that can help you make better decisions, improve your communication, build trust, increase influence, even increase your confidence, or reduce anxiety. And it's actually pretty simple. But it's not always easy. And it's hard to remember to do this on a regular basis. So that's why I call this a practice. Now chances are, if you are in a user centered discipline, you're already practicing this skill pretty regularly in your work. This is a core tenet of user centered design. Right? We are not our users. And we can't assume that we know our users goals and motivations. So this is critical to making products and services that our customers really want and want to use. We have to find out what their underlying goals and motivations actually are, versus what we assume they are. And we do that through observation and inquiry. Making assumptions and not questioning our assumptions in product strategy that is poison to innovation and continued growth is inquiry for finding out the customer's goals and motivations. It's not as simple as just asking them, right, what do you want? So what do you want? What's your goal? Right? There's a whole lot of other questions that we have to ask kind of ask around it to find out and keep prompting them to get at that using the deep listening approach is something that I talked with Indy young about in episode 44, we're prompting them rather than using questions. And it takes curiosity and openness to what we don't know and listening to find out. So the same is true of the people that we work with. And the people we work for our colleagues, our stakeholders, our clients, we often assume that what's important to us is important to the people that we're working with, and the people around us that others motivations are the same or similar to ours. And we create conclusions about what's important to others or what their goals are, because we're interpreting their words and actions through our own perspective and our own experiences. And sometimes we might be right or partially right. Let's say we're on a team of people working together towards a common goal, we can possibly assume that everybody wants to create a great experience for the customer. And hopefully everyone wants the business to do well. Right? So that might be true. But those are really kind of obvious. surface level goals. What else might be true? What else could be important? Or might be motivating them? These other people that we're working with, right? What are some underlying goals that might influence people's decisions or actions? What are some of your underlying goals, feeling the need to impress leadership demonstrating responsibility, maybe showing the value of your work or showing the value of your team and your team's work? Maybe getting promoted? Or getting more headcount, possibly proving out a strategy? I mean, I've seen this play out so many different ways. In In the workplace, let me tell you a story about a designer and a PM. It's a very common story. In fact, there's probably there could be multiple people listening to this podcast who think I'm talking about them.
This could have been five years ago, a year ago, a month ago, this story may sound familiar to you, too. But there is a twist, a surprising twist at the end. So this designer, I'm going to call her Michelle, she comes to me to discuss a problem that she's having with a PM. Now what she comes to me with is that the problem that she believes she's having is that she needs to build trust with the PM, and she needs to get him more on board with design. So let's take a step back and say, what's leading her to believe this? Well, here's sort of the scenario, the Pm is making a lot of design decisions and changing the design in pretty fundamental ways. And he's not involving her at all. He's not implementing the recommendations from the research that they did. She's tried involving him more in the research, getting him to go to research sessions, and he's always been too busy, she feels excluded. And then most recently, they had a design review, and because of what, you know, sort of had been going on in the background in her head, basically, she got defensive, and because of that, he got defensive. And the end result was that it just it didn't go very well, they they didn't make the progress that they needed to make. So she's feeling like he doesn't trust her design recommendations. And this is why she thinks she needs to build trust. So on the surface, that might seem like a good approach, how could she build trust, she's thinking, maybe she just hasn't shown enough user data or the right user data to change his mind. So my question to her was, what are his goals? And she starts with Well, I mean, the project goals are decreasing calls to support and streamlining the onboarding. No, no, no, no, no, no. All that. What are his goals? Right? What's important to him? What does he think the challenges here? What other things could be motivating him? Maybe he's feeling a need to show ownership for some reason? Like, you know, he needs to look good. Maybe he's up for a promotion. What is his previous experience with design and research been? Like? Could it be, he's felt burned before, you know, maybe it's not about you at all, maybe it's about a poor relationship he had with design and research previously. So basically, she didn't know. And realize she needed to have a conversation with the PM, to find out actually what's driving what's driving these actions, after discussing some strategies for how she could talk with him, and, you know, keep it non defensive, she scheduled a conversation with him. And the outcome of that was such a surprise to both of us, it was nothing that either of us could have predicted, it turned out, actually he was moving to a different role in the company and a different part of the organization. So what was important to him really was just trying to wrap this project up. So he could hand it off to the developers before he left. And it actually had nothing to do with him wanting to take more ownership, which is, you know, kind of how it seemed to me at the surface. And certainly, we could have made that assumption, he didn't have an issue with her designs, per se, he didn't even realize the design implications of the decisions that he was making, you know, he was just trying to get this wrapped up. So turns out, the design was actually not his top priority at all. So with this knowledge, now, Michelle could make a better way forward by creating a plan that she could take to him, right. And that would allow her to take the time that the design actually needed. And she could be the liaison with the development after he left. So by knowing what was motivating this Pm, she could suggest a solution that would meet everybody's underlying needs, and in the end, create a better product. So that opportunity for Michelle to step up and show her own leadership in that project, absolutely would not have happened, had she not questioned her assumptions, and then taking the next step to actually find out and scheduling what she thought would be a very difficult conversation and was was not a conversation she was necessarily looking forward to right. But she did it anyway. So what could have been a real career blocker? Honestly, I've seen people leave companies because of situations like this that just build and build over time. So what could have been a career block or actually became an opportunity for Michelle to really level up? So often when we're we find ourselves faced with a challenge, it can be really helpful to just kind of take a step back and ask, what assumptions Am I making here? And then look at those assumptions and ask, How do I know that's true? What else could be true? And then, of course, finally, how could I find out so this also comes up in what we believe is important about the work that we're doing. We can't assume that what's most important to us about what we're doing is what our collaborators or our stakeholders or clients or our boss thinks is important about the work. If you want more collaboration with people at work, find out what's important to them. Do you wish you could be better at managing up? Are you wondering how to increase your influence? Start by asking yourself, what assumptions have you been making about what's important to those people, above you, around you? And then go find out what is actually important to those individuals? What challenges are they facing? What do they see, as most important about the work that you're doing? How does it integrate with the work that they're doing? It doesn't have to take a really long time to ask a couple of questions or dig around. For some answers. It may mean having more conversations, which can be challenging and uncomfortable to many people, it could mean changing your the conversations you are having, and asking more questions or different kinds of questions to get at underlying motivations or assumptions that other people are making. Now, sometimes we can't have a conversation, right? I once needed to give a presentation to a group of senior leaders, including a chief marketing officer who I hadn't met, and I needed to get her on board. So I needed to find out what was important to her. And I was able to ask others around her who did work with her a lot who I did have access to. And so I was able to find out what parts of their upcoming plans and strategy she had been talking a lot about. And then rooting around on SharePoint. I found some strategy documents that she had created, and was able to see well what's top of mind for her, and what challenges she's facing and what she believes, you know, like her boss thinks is most important. So that was enough of a proxy for a conversation to inform my presentation. So I had to realize that what she saw as challenges and problems to solve, would be different. Then the chief product officer who had hired me, for example, the words she used were different, she spoke in a much more brandstory kind of way. So it actually was really important for me to adjust my perspective and the words that I use in the presentation in order to make this speak to her. So try this for yourself. Next time a challenge comes up in a project or in communication or in your confidence, a decision you're trying to make set aside some time. And honestly, you can do this in half an hour or less. Just grab a notebook and write out every possible assumption you could be making little and big, there will be plenty that don't need to be challenged, but which ones might be presenting obstacles,
which ones might radically alter the outcome. If it's not true. start poking some holes. Do I know that's true? Is this always true? What else might be true? What about in our own lives? How can we use this take a career decision? For example? Like should I stay in my current job or look for something else?
This one comes up for people many times throughout a career, could I make my current job better aligned with what I want and what I'm good at or with what I want to learn? So now there are lots of complexities in those questions. However, we can get more clarity and insight through this exercise of identifying your assumptions about the options you're considering and then asking, Is this true? Could something else be true? And how might I find out maybe there are other people who have made similar decisions? Could you find out what it was like for them? We often have hidden assumptions that are creating beliefs about ourselves that hold us back or keep us stuck. So what happens when you challenge those assumptions and ask yourself What else might be true? This can be transformational friends, when we can identify beliefs that don't say serve us that are holding us back. And challenging the underlying assumptions that feed them. It can be such an Unblocker. To do this exercise, let me share a personal story with you. So years ago, I had a belief about myself that I was a quitter. This was a story that I had believed since I was a kid. And when I was a kid, I would start many, many creative projects and just sort of abandon them partway through, which is something that kids do. I know now, it's very typical. But somehow I formed an assumption that any and all value of creating something was was in the completion of the thing. And I'll tell you that dogged me into adulthood through school. And as I moved from one job to another, and I did change jobs a lot. I was motivated by creating better opportunities and having interesting experiences. And I actually had a pretty successful career. But that story of being a quitter would come back to haunt me whenever I was feeling down or feeling stuck, or thinking about going for a job that was a stretch or starting something new or trying to do something hard. That belief would create thoughts that would keep me from continuing challenging things, sometimes, like a self fulfilling prophecy, which is like the vicious cycle of assumptions, right, we look for evidence to prove them out, because challenging them could be scary and feel risky or uncomfortable, but continuing to rely on false assumptions can keep us from believing in other possibilities. So besides just not serving me and not helping me and helping to keep me stuck, right. My belief that I was a quitter wasn't true. It was ignoring all of the things of value, I had created all of the valuable experiences I had had all of the expertise I had gained, besides all the many things that I could point to and say, Well, I completed that I had completed a lot of things. Right. So when I examined that belief, more deeply, I was able to kind of discover this assumption. And I had to question that assumption that the most important value of a thing or an experience is the completion. Really, is that true? What else could be true, that the value of a creative project or an experience could equally be in the doing as much as in the completing or that there is no right way to progress through a career, I can start new, challenging things, not knowing what the end looks like, and not attach to a perceived completion. And I know now that I can complete things that I really do want to finish, even if they are hard, and I don't have to complete things that I really don't want to do. And it doesn't mean anything, because I don't believe I'm a quitter. I believe I'm a doer. And if I don't want to finish reading a book, because I think it's boring. It means nothing about me, right? Except I'm too busy to read books that don't engage me. And because I know I do hard things that are important to me. I could take a break from making this podcast two years ago that I love doing but I was just burned out. And I felt okay about that. I felt like I could come back to it when I could figure out or if I could figure out how to make it more sustainable for me. And I saw that the value of what I had created so far, was helping so many, so many people already they told me, I did not make that about quitting. And I very easily could have if I still believed that limiting belief about myself. And that assumption, right? That the value is the completion. I don't even know what completing by guest would be but two years in did not feel like completion to me. But you know, it doesn't matter. And because I understand that the value was in the journey, I was able to come back to it later without feeling a lot of remorse or shame. It takes an open and curious mind to ask the questions, what else could be true, and sometimes it requires a willingness to get out of our comfort zone to find out this is such an important part of managing our mind. And it's a crucial foundation for leadership. I will also mention it is continuous. This work is never done. And it's all a journey. All of it in assumptions can be really difficult to uncover on our own. So it can be helpful to do this with Another person who could you enlist to help you discover your assumptions and challenge them. This is one of the benefits of working with a coach. It can help you create bigger and better outcomes and really accelerate your leadership development. So if investing in a coach is something that you're curious about, and you want to know more, you can get more info and book a discovery call with me. On my website. It's free. It's not a sales pitch, just go to Lee redondo.com,
l e i g h a r r e, d o n D o. Alright, as always, thank you so much for listening. And if you found this helpful, I would very much like to know I love getting your comments and questions and feedback. You can connect with UX cake on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram and share this podcast with your friends and colleagues because there's always enough UX cake to go around. Till next time
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
UX Cake was founded by host Leigh Allen-Arredondo. The podcast launched in February 2018 and quickly grew an audience of UX pros around the globe. Our aim is to help the growing UX community become stronger and more effective, by sharing the experience and expertise from leaders in the field.