Do you ever have trouble selling your work to your colleagues or clients? Do people listen when you talk? Do people seek you out to ask for your opinion?
Whether you’re working within your company or as an independent, the way you are personally perceived by others directly impacts the way your work is perceived.
The field of user experience is particularly difficult because all of our stakeholders, bosses, and clients are themselves users and likely have strong opinions about the way a particular site should work for them. These opinions can come on strong and can put the UX team members on the defensive.
So, how do we garner respect, persuade, and manage the perceptions others have of us? We have to start by looking in the mirror.
To SWOT Thyself is to Know Thyself
SWOT stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.” Usually a SWOT analysis looks at a business or its competitors, but in this case I want us to turn the magnifying glass on ourselves.
Identify your strengths
- What tasks or situations have you noticed bring out that magical “flow” where time seems to pass in an instant because you’re so engrossed in your work?
- Relationally, which team members do you find yourself in agreement with the most? Do graphic designers or developers resonate with you more?
- If you’re independent, what types of clients do you take best to?
- Do you see any trends in the most successful client projects you’ve had?
- What do you have the most training in or experience with in your job?
- What have people said you do well? Listen carefully when a colleague explains what you do to someone else and write it down.
- What past work are you most proud of?
Be honest about weaknesses
- What kind of conversations leave you drained or frustrated?
- Are you diplomatic or confrontational? What does it feel like to disagree with you from the other person’s point of view?
- Where are the holes in your skill set? What tasks do you find most difficult to do?
- What do you put off doing until the last second?
- Where have you truly messed things up in the past? Do you see any trends in your past failures?
- Think back to feedback you’ve gotten from coworkers, clients, or bosses or actively ask for it. Do you see any trends or areas that are consistently critiqued?
Creatively think about opportunities
- Opportunities can be connected to your weaknesses because those are the places where you stand the most to gain. For example, where has fear kept you from doing things that you might be really good at?
- Other opportunities are technical. What technologies exist that you haven’t taken the time to get experience with yet? What tools have you avoided using because you are comfortable with your current set?
- Where is there is an opportunity to convert a critic into a user experience advocate?
- How do you see technologies changing in the next five or 10 years? How do you plan to adjust your skillset to be ready for these changes?
Open your eyes to threats
- Think of identifying threats as an occupational insurance plan. Once you know where to direct your energy, your threats can become opportunities and possibly even strengths.
- Do you know your company’s roadmap or where your clients are headed? Do you fit into the plan for their future?
- Are there younger, more educated, more energetic people who are willing to work at lower rates than you are?
- What other factors in your work environment might threaten your job security or your preferred career path?
- What is most demotivating to you? Burnout is a real threat.
- Industry threats, like a pending dot com bust or a huge shift in the workforce to another region of the world can make anybody uneasy. What threats exist that you have no control over?
Whew, those are tough! Now we consolidate the answers into actionable items to make a roadmap for success.
Putting It Together
- Take your strengths in knowledge and use them for the greater good by sharing with others. Write blog posts, contribute thoughtful answers on Quora, join the discussion in LinkedIn groups, and connect with others on Twitter. People around you can’t see what you know unless you show them and there are many opportunities to do that.
- Conference speakers are successful because they have used their strengths and opportunities to develop a unique voice. By honing in one one subset of the field, they become more powerful. Finding a voice helps differentiate you from others and will lead to a difference in the way people explain what you do to others.
- So much of this job relies on the ability to explain decisions persuasively and constantly educate others. In the areas where you are strong, this is helpful reinforcement. In the areas where you are weak, it is an opportunity to study and learn. Nothing makes you learn more quickly than having to explain to someone else.
- Do some research into current graduate coursework in related fields and make a list of the skills you’d like to gain that you are lacking. Create a plan for how you can start building knowledge in these areas.
- Do you find that people often speak over you or don’t seem to be listening to you? Make a concerted effort to speak carefully and clearly, not turning thoughts into speech before they’ve had time to gel. If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t try to fake it. Your speech is the conduit through which your knowledge is conferred to others, so don’t waste it.
- Consider your weaknesses carefully and select a few that you really want to go after. Then, take a risk and put yourself in positions that require you to strengthen this skill. Public speaking is a common example, since so many people fear it. Those who know you will respect you for it and you will gain new skills and confidence.
Remember that in every interaction you have, in every presentation you make, and in every new introduction you are communicating something about yourself. Instead of just hoping for the best, use this in-depth analysis of your own brand to be intentional about these interactions. I’ll be doing the same thing, so you’re not alone. We might just surprise ourselves!
Emily Smith is an information architect and usability consultant for the web and Apple devices. She co-works with other web professionals in Greenville, SC and can be found online at emilysmith.cc.