7 Mistakes Almost Everybody Makes
We communicate always. Even no communication is communication. The worst part about it? Every bit of communication matters, especially for designers: We build products and interfaces that communicate with buyers and users. Hence, if designers can’t express themselves properly, how could they possibly seem qualified for their job?
There are a lot of situations in which it’s relevant to be able to communicate with other humans (face-to-face):
You try to apply for a job as a designer which is essentially a job as a communicator. Hence, the way you present yourself will have an as dramatic impact as your formal qualifications on whether you have talked to your future employer or just another person.
Interacting with customers
Whenever you interact with customers, you want to show why you are the right person or company to get the job done. How could somebody assume you will be able to fulfill a design task (which is essentially helping your customers to communicate with their customers) if you can’t even communicate with them?
Interacting with coworkers
Especially in-house designers can have a hard time to persuade their colleagues of their own work and worth. Design is often an afterthought in companies, so you better can convince your coworkers, why it should be a priority (and hence, why your job is irreplaceable).
Also, communication skills will help you in general, not only with your job. It’ll make other people respect you if you know how to express yourself, because most people aren’t able to do this in a proper way. If it’s interesting to listen to you, people will hear your message and maybe they’ll internalize it. On the other hand, if nobody listens to you, nobody can internalize your message.
Furthermore, if you communicate with somebody, it’s always a two-sided relationship. There is a sender and a recipient of every message. Hence, if you want to convince the other person to do something, you better show them that you value their time and attention, e. g. by requiring as little time as possible to pitch your idea. And because they’ll value your respect for them, they’ll approve your idea more likely.
Knowing how to communicate will also improve your self-esteem as it’ll will help you to achieve your goals. If you speak more optimistically and more thoughtfully about them, you’ll be able to convince others why they should support you. And as you are able to do this, it’ll also improve your self-worth, because you are respected by others — and for real, most of us define their self-worth through the opinion of other people.
7 Common Mistakes Almost Everybody Makes
Mistake #1: Being unprepared
Everybody has experienced it: There’s a meeting scheduled for one hour. After two hours of discussion about everything from „This meeting is a bad idea!“ to „The customer doesn’t like us“, you still haven’t come to a meaningful conclusion about the topic the meeting was actually about.
So, what did happen? Nobody was prepared. Everybody attended the meeting with the idea that a) hopefully somebody else is prepared and b) they’ll be able to improvise and talk themselves out of the situation. But in reality, nobody was slightly prepared and, of course, nobody was able to improvise. Instead, there was neither a clear schedule nor a list of topics to discuss and even if somebody was able to come back to a point of the meeting, nobody else was able to respond properly, because, well, not one person was prepared. And this does not only happen in meetings, but also in job interviews and presentations.
So, how can we do better? Simple. Prepare yourself. Yeah, that’s admittedly a pretty obvious advice, but almost nobody seems to obey it. Write down what points you want to discuss. If you’ll have to argue about a topic, put your arguments in order and think about your position and what compromises you’d be willing to make.
Mistake #2: Awful first impression
I still remember a situation that occurred in 8th grade pretty well. The new school year had just started and we got a new teacher in history. We were only one or two minutes, but our new teacher had been already in the classroom. She’d even put worksheets to every seat. Aaaaaaaaand, we already hated her. She’d not spoken a single word, but we all knew immediately, that this would be a terrible year.
It’s one of the best examples how you can screw up everything with a bad first impression. The class never respected her and virtually nobody learnt anything. So, what did she do wrong?
№1, she wasn’t able to adapt her behavior to recipients. She seemed like an overachiever from the first seconds. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want to be liked by your students (which is basically the better alternative to being feared), you should try to empathize with them and adapt. Hence, she should’ve come only a bit later than we did. Not too late, but not overly early as well.
№2, she confused a high level of language with highbrow language. A high level of language can show that you’re more proficient but doesn’t have to show in a pretentious language. The latter makes you seem at least arrogant and — in our case — is just embarrassing if you use complicated words in the wrong way.
Both things were especially problematic because they formed our picture of her immediately. Whenever somebody tells you „Only the inner values count“, this person just lies. Sorry, but that’s the sad truth. First impressions count. Humans judge a person in only a few seconds or even less, so better make sure you don’t screw it up. Don’t misunderstand me, inner values like your personality and emotions count as well. But you’ll be never able to make them count if you already burnt all bridges to the other person.
Mistake #3: Talking without saying anything
It’s quite common for local politicians to give a speech at events like graduations or anniversaries. What is also customary, is that nobody listens to them. There’s a simple reason: They talk a lot without saying anything meaningful. In defense of them, it’s hard to find a real message for dozens of events every year, especially, if you have other tasks to fulfill, as well. Nevertheless, these performances are a great example to show how to miscommunicate, because you don’t have a message.
Did you ever listen to Elon Musk? He isn’t a great speaker, is he? Musk uses a lot of gap words and thinks a lot between his sentences, sometimes, he even stutters. Nevertheless, everybody is thrilled to listen to him, because they not only listen to him, but primarily, they want to hear his message. Hence, it’s very important to have a message, if you say something. There has to be a reason why you talk. Why? A lot of people just talk without having anything noteworthy or mentionable to say. Therefore, it’s already hard enough to find the right information among all the noise. So, why would you like to add even more noise?! If you’re well known — and this applies to every form of communication — for saying only something if you have something to say, then it’s much more likely, that you’ll find an ear or a lot of ears if it’s necessary.
Let’s take myself as an example: I’m pretty quiet. When other people talk about the weather, I listen and nod, but it’s very seldom to hear me complaining about the heat, because it wouldn’t provide any value. But when I do say something, people listen not only because it’s a question of courtesy and respect, but because they know, most likely, I will contribute a (depending of the community) more or less meaningful insight.
Mistake #4: Not knowing who you’re talking to
Did you ever talk with clients about the reason why you think that your idea is superior, but they didn’t understand it? Probably. It’s a similar situation, like the example of mistake #2. Most likely, you didn’t know who you’re talking to. Clients can have very different qualifications and backgrounds. Hence, it’s crucial to know what your clients know and understand. If you try to educate a typical 60-year-old shop owner, who wants to get his first website, about conversion rates, responsive design or SVG files, you will, most likely, fail.
Don’t misunderstand me, educating your client is one of the best things you can do, but only if the client can understand your lessons. It’s a small path between making your client feel dumb and making your client thinking that you think that he’s dumb. If your client is an electrical engineer, don’t explain every every statistical triviality, most likely, he studied this. Instead, try to explain, why this matters for design or why design matters. The shop-owner from above might be better served with a more graphical approach based on diagrams and case studies.
Mistake #5: Not coming to your point
Whenever you design a UI, you try to help the users accomplishing their tasks. We do this by building a clear visual hierarchy and minimizing information overload by working with bullet lists and short texts.
It should be the same if we communicate with somebody: We have to minimize information overload in order to get our point across. If you want to go as far as only speaking in keywords, that’s fine as well. Maybe it doesn’t sound very elegant or elaborated, but it will protect you from getting lost in unnecessary details that aren’t relevant for your dialogue partner.
Example: Pitching your design to clients (who aren’t designers). You don’t want to explain them in every detail how you came to the conclusion that rounded corners with a radius of 5px are better than rounded corners with a radius of 10px in order to underline the brand identity. Instead, you want to tell them, that these rounded corners support their brand identity. If the other person questions your choice, then you can explain your process, but as long as they trust you, it’s better to focus on the parts of your work that are important for your clients. Yes, it may be relevant for you why you chose the 5px radius. But you try to provide value for your clients. This also means, that you value their time and understand that they are busy, hence you try to be as precise as possible. Otherwise, you risk being seen as uncoordinated, excursive or overly justifying.
Mistake #6: Confusing a high linguistic level with pretentious language
One of the worst mistakes I have to observe is to not understand what it means to use proper language. You want to have a high linguistic level, especially as a designer, because it helps you to make better designs as you have to find the right words for buttons or — depending on your specific tasks — headings and texts. But a lot of people believe that this equivalent to using the most fancy words when talking. It’s not.
A high linguistic level is — at least in my opinion — the ability to speak (or write) in a fluent, elegant way. This manifests in only few repetitions and sentences that are easy to understand. When you are able to write sentences with 20 words that are still simple to understand, great. Do it, no problem, that’s not a bad thing, in fact, it shows that you have a high linguistic level. But if you can’t do this, stop it. Instead write sentences with 10 words, if this is easier and results in a more readable text.
Trying to show off without having the necessary skills to show them off can’t lead to a success: Just imagine that a person who never ran more than one mile now tries to compete in a marathon. Most likely, it won’t work.
Recap: How to communicate better?
- Prepare yourself.
- Deliver a stunning first impression.
- Have a message.
- Adapt to the recipient.
- Come to your point.
- Speak elegantly, not fancy.
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