“I don’t know if anybody’s ever told you that half the time, this business comes down to ‘I don’t like that guy.”
– Roger Sterling, Mad Men, Season 1
If you’re a designer, you might be wondering why some people get promoted faster, or get asked to work on the best projects. For years, I struggled to understand why I wasn’t one of those people, but I have recently learned that communication skills are what will bring you to the top of your design career.
I’ve spent the last 2 years learning about how to get better at the soft skills that they don’t teach at Design College. Being a better communicator will make people want to work with you.
Photoshop skills are going to get you so far. After a few years, your design career becomes more and more about being able to work with people. Managers, developers and other designers will prefer to work with someone who is friendly, can clearly communicate without getting angry or emotional, and can articulate their value to a project.
1. Be Attentive
If someone wants to talk to you while you’re busy, ask them to come back at a quieter time or schedule some time for later. This means you will be able to give them your full attention. If you’re meeting with a product owner or manager, take a note book with you. Actually, I always take my notebook with me – my trusted Moleskine journal.
Wait until the other person has finished speaking, take time to put together the right response. Most people wait for the other person to stop talking so they can get their word in – don’t be one of these people. Take a few seconds to think about what the other person has said
3. Body Language
Face the person, sit up straight and make eye contact. Close the laptop if necessary to show that you’re really listening to this person.
4. Show Respect
Don’t dismiss someone’s ideas or suggestions and keep an open mind. For years I got annoyed when a marketing person wanted to put some ridiculous campaign on a website. Sometimes an odd idea might be a hit with your users – the only way to know is to test it out. This is my go-to response for both good and bad suggestions :
“That sounds like a great idea – I would really like to test it.”
5. Take Notes
I often find it’s a good way to sum up a meeting: repeat the main points, and ask the other person to confirm them. Then write them down. This means you have a record of the conversation, you have been listening attentively, and the communication has been clearly understood by both sides.
Sometimes having some blank paper is great for doing quick sketches if a new feature is being discussed.
6. Keep Calm
This is especially true if someone is giving negative feedback or delivering some bad news – the best thing to do is keep calm. No one wants to have to discuss a project with someone who will fly off the handle or get angry.
In some cases, I have found another person to give me negative feedback in an aggressive and disrespectful manner. My response was to ask the person, calmly, if they could provide some constructive feedback. I didn’t raise my voice or get annoyed, and this had a calming effect on the angry person.
7. Keep Conversations On Track
I struggle with this one from time to time, but it’s important to remember why you’re talking and what you hope to get out of the conversation. If there is a meeting with more than 4 people, an agenda is a good idea (even if it’s just a few hand-written notes on a scrap of paper) you should try to keep the topics on track and make sure you get the results you want.
8. Keep It Positive (If You Can)
Try to keep a positive and open mind about things. If you’re tackling a difficult topic, like offering constructive criticism, try to acknowledge some of the good points first. Praise the other team for some great work, and this should keep the tone of the conversation friendly and make the other person feel they can open up.
9. Show Empathy
Designers are always encouraged to have empathy for the users, but why not have empathy for people from other departments? If you are proposing major design changes, the developers will have a lot to do. Acknowledging empathy will establish understanding for others, and make them feel that you have considered their side of things.
My final point on how to improve communication skills is to be trustworthy. Try not to be the person who talks negatively about other people in the work place, or bring people down. It’s very easy to blame others – managers or other departments – for set backs, but it’s much more productive to be the person why will try to forge a good working relationship with them.
That’s it – those is my 10 ways to improve communication skills as a designer.
But a Warning…
This might make you look like the “teachers pet” of the office, but I have found you can avoid that by being honest and having integrity.
Someone: “I don’t know how you work with that guy, he’s an idiot.”
Me: “He’s actually really good at what he does, and I need to work with him.”
If you want to know more about communication skills, I have a go-to book that has taught me everything I know.
The only book I can recommend on this topic is a classic best seller – by Dale Carnegie.
How to Win Friends & Influence People
And this is the daily planner I’m using.
Moleskine 2017 Peanuts Limited Edition Daily Planner, 12M, Large, Yellow, Hard Cover (5 x 8.25)