Learning how to say “no” is not easy. Dealing with what comes after the no, the disappointment, disapproval, and rejection from those you said no to, can sometimes seem unbearable. As a User Experience Researcher, I think we are constantly told that we are worth ‘less than’ our more technical counterparts. We are told we are a ‘cost’ to the organization, and that we can’t be picky about the work given to us. If we say no to staying over the weekend to complete a project, we fear that we will hurt our professional relationships that we have worked so long to build, and jeopardize our job security.
I started reading The Power of a Positive No by William Ury, and it has dramatically changed the way I view my work as a UX Researcher. The following are a series a lessons from the book, and how I think these sessions in positive assertiveness apply to a UX Researcher.
1. “I need to tell them no in a way that is clear, honest, and respectful, and then let them react however they react.” William Ury, The Power of a Positive No
UX Researchers often take on too many projects, and say yes to helping too many people. We don’t know how to be upfront and honest about our heavy workload, because we know that it will cause a negative reaction to the person we are speaking with. Also, we worry and can’t bear to say no to a project, or say no to helping someone because we are trained to “go with the flow” as facilitators. We are great at accommodating participants, and doing whatever it takes to make them happy. However, we need to learn to stick up for ourselves — the right way, and that we cannot control how others will react. All we can do is do our best to be honest, clear, and respectful, and this means we are doing the best we can.
2. “Give respect not because of who they are but because of who you are.” William Ury, The Power of a Positive No
Giving respect is the best way to have stakeholders and co-workers accept your “no.” When you show stakeholders and co-workers you respect where they are coming from, and understand the pain they are going through that would cause them to bring their request to you, it is much easier for them to see that you are not rejecting them personally when you say “no.” It is critical to put yourself into other people’s shoes, and do whatever it takes to understand what the motivations are behind their request, and show them that you understand where they are coming from. It might be painful or difficult to show respect to stakeholders or co-workers who disrespect you. However, the reason you need to show this respect, as the quote above suggests, is simple: give respect not because of who they are, but because of who you are. UX Researchers have good interests at heart. They work as advocates to improve the human experience of using Web sites, software, apps, and other technologies. This is very important to keep in mind when asserting yourself — be empathetic with your co-workers, and their needs, and it will take you far.
3. “You have done the essential prepatory work. You are like an athlete who has trained hard. Now during the race it is time to reap the rewards of that hard work.” William Ury, The Power of a Positive No
Before I get to how this quote applies to UX Researchers, I need to discuss an anaolgy brought up in The Power of a Positive No. UX Researchers can learn a lot to learn from trees, in terms of how to stand strong. William Ury talks about how trees have deep roots in the ground that keep their trunks standing strong. He says, our “no” is the trunk of the tree. Our “yes” is in what we are rooted in, and in what we produce. Our trunks however must stand strong, because if they break, what we produce dies.
UX Researchers need to do their essential preparatory work: deepening their roots in their “yes.” They need to spend time growing in their knowledge and belief in advocating for users, building empathy for users, making actionable insights, and inspiring development teams with user empathy. Spending time “on the balcony,” as William Ury calls it, discovering our deep core values and interests, enables us to have that strong trunk that grows out of them. The deeper our roots, the harder it is for someone to uproot us. Even if we are chopped down, if our roots are strong, they will always grow back. The goal of course would be to have blossoming branches of UX Research, providing useful customer feedback, validation, and get the voice of the customer to be lived and breathed into the very products we ship.