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Thinking Like A Designer Can Help You Solve Problems Like A Boss

Thinking Like A Designer Can Help You Solve Problems Like A Boss

Common sense would lead you to believe that “design thinking” involves thinking like a designer — in this case, usually a product, industrial or graphic designer. But if you research the concept further, you’ll find numerous long-form articles, books, businesses and crash courses all built around the idea of design thinking. Everyone from entrepreneurs and engineers to farmers and regular Joes are using the design thinking process to create healthy habits, achieve their goals and tackle life’s dilemmas. You can, too.

What Design Thinking Looks Like

The New York Times recently broke design thinking down into five simplified steps:

  1. Empathize: Learn what issue needs to be solved
  2. Define the problem: This can be tougher than it looks
  3. Ideate: Brainstorm, write down ideas, make lists and come up with possible solutions
  4. Build: Start making a prototype or creating a plan
  5. Test: Seek feedback from others while testing your prototype

Let’s take a look at how these principles can be applied to your everyday life and work.

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Conquer Procrastination: Just Try It With Prototypes

Many people assume that designers are creative. While this is certainly true, in reality, it’s not the driving force behind great designers. Design thinking involves overcoming the fear of failure. Industrial designers often create rapid prototypes using cheaper materials than the final product, which enables them to save money and time and also get the project in motion. Even if the first few prototypes are scrapped, there are undoubtedly takeaways that can be applied to each new model.

This type of thinking can be applied to help with procrastination. Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, tells Psychology Today there are three types of procrastination:

  1. Arousal types, or thrill-seekers
  2. Decisional procrastinators who cannot make a decision
  3. Avoiders who are the most common type and generally avoid their fear of failure or even success

This video illustrates how fear is the main factor behind procrastination. People don’t realize they are often avoiding that term paper, quarterly report or buying a gift for a loved one because they are afraid that they will fail if it’s not perfect or that the people involved will be dissatisfied with the results.

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Instead of being conquered by fear, think like a designer. Whatever problem or assignment you’re procrastinating, make a prototype by dividing the tasks into small chunks and tackling the first one. Getting started often leads to a confidence boost as you recall successes from the past.

Take Criticism Well: Thrive on Feedback

Designers must take and apply feedback on every project. It is important for them to establish a positive collaboration environment with their clients. Instead of dreading it, they expect it; they may even be lost without it. Taking criticism well, whether it’s constructive, rash or misplaced, is a huge advantage for your professional and personal well being.

Douglas Stone, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and co-author of “Thanks for the Feedback,” provides three reasons people take criticism poorly:

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  1. It may seem wrong or unfair
  2. They dislike or disrespect the person giving it
  3. It may rock the listener’s sense of identity or security

Designers take feedback and criticism less personally because these three conditions don’t apply. They won’t get far as a designer if they disrespect a client or lose confidence due to feedback. More importantly, criticism can’t be wrong or unfair because the client is trying to satisfy an audience that they understand more than the designer.

Think about this principle when receiving criticism. Where is it coming from? Who is the boss, manager or colleague looking to please? If it still feels misplaced, take the appropriate steps needed. But don’t forget that everyone is trying to please someone other than themselves.

Be a Better Salesman: Visualize With Storytelling

Sales skills are beneficial to nearly all areas of life. Everyone needs to be and is a salesman at some point. Job interviews, romantic or platonic relationships, or just for overall self-confidence and worth: listening, connecting, explaining value and other sales skills all get you closer to your desired result. And thinking about the final result is where design thinking and sales overlap.

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Designers have to explain details while relating how overall project goals are being hit. A good piece of design, sales and problem-solving put together is what Samsung did their TV, The Serif. Over the past few years, curved TVs have flirted with popularity thanks to their cool design, but they’re expected to remain subdued in 2016 due to drawbacks like limited viewing angles and exaggerated reflections. Samsung unconventionally collaborated with the French design team Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec to make sure they developed something that had the “cool” feel of curved TVs, and then they sold the it with a sleek video and PR campaign. Fast Company called it a design masterpiece.

Samsung used design thinking to visualize the entire flow of this project and examine how objectives were being met — similar to how great salespeople visualize the end result for motivation and focus. This is key as they present the same or similar sales pitch to different people with different goals.

Think like a designer by focusing on the end result to improve your sales skills. Understand that no matter how awkward or cheesy you may think you sound, genuine passion cannot be hidden. Great salespeople take a genuine interest in whomever they are talking to and uncover their needs. Do the same when a sales opportunity presents itself to you.

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Last Updated on April 11, 2019

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

How Communication Skills Help Your Success

Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

Create a Positive Experience

Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

Help Leadership Skills

It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

Build Better Teams

Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

1. Listen

Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

2. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

Here is a good way to think about it:

Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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3. Minimize

I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

4. Over Communicate

So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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5. Body Language

The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

Conclusion

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

Now go communicate your way to success.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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