One of my goals is to get better at effectively communicating in conversations and meetings surrounding my work. As the lead designer on my project, I need to make sure people have visibility and transparency over what I am doing so that there aren’t any misunderstandings between my end and the technical end. A primary way I have been going about this is presenting my work in meetings or providing feedback to my peers, whether in weekly sync ups or 1:1s.

I have been reflecting on my progress on how I have been providing more verbal input in meetings around my work, and what I realized is that I haven’t been mentally present as I would like to be. Especially in group meetings, I find myself agreeing without fully trying to understand what I am agreeing to, and haven’t been providing feedback or asking question as much I would like to. As someone who is in the process of building design in an organization still driven by the desire to build and “move and break things”, there is an ever growing need to be an advocate for the user and ensuring that we are creating thoughtful design before building the end product.

The three I have observed successful use when establishing presence and using design to influence product is that they listen, empathize and engage. Listening to understand the context behind the work or problem, emphasizing with the problem and user, and engaging to provide input that allows the designer to think critically about the problem they are designing for in order to leverage or improve on the existing design. With those three aspects in mind, here are some guiding tips for myself and for others to remember in order to engage and build influence as a designer.

Be present in providing input

We all know that if we could get our answer without a meeting, we would do that. Meetings, when effective, allow for a wide variety of ideas and perspectives to be exchanged. This is if everyone has a chance or feels inclined to speak up because it’ll be beneficial for everyone involved. It isn’t enough to just be present in meetings.

Don’t agree for the sake of agreeing. Explain why you agree or disagree to drive conversation, especially on issues that require design expertise.

I am an agreeable person. Too agreeable. What ends up happening is that I don’t think about what I want to say at the moment and then maybe ask for clarification after. This can slow down the process of getting things done on my end, especially if I could have gotten clarification from at a more appropriate time. Being too agreeable also doesn’t allow me to fully develop a solid perspective in what I truly believe of a topic. I realized I do this as a subconscious way to avoid confrontation (not always good because effective confrontation can address important issues), but it also causes me to be complacent in being curious to understand new things. Based on this realization, I have been trying to be more present in meetings so I can be more visible in shaping decisions, and help my fellow peers inform their work with design, learning about their work and how it can shape mine.

Don’t wait to be told to speak up

A superpower everyone has at their disposal is communication. What you communicate and how you communicate comes second to making the effort to voice your perspective in a conversation that thrives on numerous inputs to reach a conclusion.

I used to believe that I needed to wait for opportunities to come to me rather than to seek them out, but I have found this to be a waste of time and potential. A lot of the opportunities I received were a result of speaking up and not being afraid to show my work to others. In group settings, I need to remember that if I feel the urge to speak up, don’t ignore the feeling because speaking up will help with bringing clarity to a conversation, and it’s okay to join in a conversation that’s happening rather than just listen and see that topic fizzle out.

You know more than you think

I have always been under the assumption that I need to have a concrete answer in order to speak up, or else I will be judged if I say something “wrong”. This is not true. What people talk about isn’t absolute, but only their opinion, unless grounded by data.

Everyone has a concentration they are most knowledgeable in that’s based on their role, experience and work. People will appreciate what you have to say because you are bringing an unique perspective that only you have to offer. You just need to listen, empathize and engage the situation to provide value and that in turn can drive decision and change for you and others.

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