If you’re a designer in a team, chances are you’ve gotten good at giving reasons behind your design decisions. You have to. It’s how we protect our work from committee design, opinionated stakeholders, and other wayward influences. We constantly justify our designs because if we don’t, we can be sure they won’t be coherent by the time they’re shipped.
This is nothing bad in itself — it’s an important skill. But what if this mindset is also working against us?
Because the other thing we need to be good at is collaboration. And when you get too deep into reasoning and justifying and persuading and defending — well that doesn’t sound much like collaborating any more. It sounds a lot more like pitching. And doing it to anyone other than investors could be a very bad idea.
Consider the following:
You’ve got a brainstorming session with the team on ways to improve retention. You’ve already had some time to flesh out your own idea for a new feature.
You kick off by talking through your proposal. Someone opines that part of the design doesn’t quite work, but you’ve got it covered — you reiterate the reasoning and explain why you think it does.
They’re still not totally buying it and start throwing in different ideas. You respond politely, thinking of how to bring the discussion back to your proposal and convince everyone.
Eventually, you manage to persuade them, although you did have to downplay the risks to do so (you’ll make it work though, right?). They agree to give your idea a shot. Success…. or is it?
Well, that depends. Because this is the moment when I ask myself, what was truly my goal here — even subconsciously? Was it to figure out what’s best for the team and product? Or was it to get my idea implemented?
Pitching and collaborating are not compatible.
I need to be honest with myself. Did I really listen to the ideas and concerns presented — or did I dismiss them without consideration? Did I voice my own concerns, or did I hide them to appear more confident? Was I being too defensive — have I really interrogated whether my idea is the best solution?
All of these are indicators that I’m not collaborating. I’m pitching. Pitching means trying to win, and in doing so, the value of collaboration — of a team’s output being greater than any one individual’s — is lost. This is the destructive side of having a pitch mindset.
Pitching makes you defensive.
At what point did I cross the line from reasoning to defensiveness? Let’s break it down and look at some red flags that can help identify when you’re in a pitch mindset:
- You start treating your team or stakeholders like clients
- You instinctively defend your ideas and dismiss others’
- You brush over weaknesses in your designs
- You spend a lot of energy persuading
- You feel the need to prove yourself through your ideas
- You catch yourself saying things like my design, my project, my game
Can losing these habits drive better collaboration?
So what’s the key to getting out of pitch mode? Well, it’s to be as genuine, open and honest as possible — even with yourself.
- Maintain respect for your team as expert collaborators
- Take time to openly consider feedback
- Highlight risks and weaknesses in your ideas, and encourage others to do so
- Prioritise listening over persuading
- Always question yourself on why your ideas are best for the team/product
- Detach yourself from ownership over ideas— prove yourself through the success of the team, not your individual contribution
In short, find ways to exercise self-awareness and keep your motivations in check. Trying to “win” any kind of conversation, work or otherwise, is rarely productive — I can certainly think of many times it’s been detrimental in my life, both personally and professionally.
We can’t be self-aware all of the time, but if you find yourself falling into the trap of pitching — of fighting really hard for an idea, without being 100% certain why — take a step back. Consider what’s driving you, and look for ways to refocus on the real goal: finding the best solution to make your team succeed.