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How to Level Up Your Design Skills

Part 6: Working Well With Others

With so many channels where we can compare our relative progress to others, it’s may be discouraging to start something new. We are immersed in a culture that praises the genius of a few exceptional individuals. Often we forget that the majority of the time, great accomplishments for mankind are not individual pursuits, but the combined resolute effort of generations, focused on a shared goal.

In the same way, healthy workplace relationships and effective collaboration are crucial to the success of an organization.

Here’s 5 key lessons to help your team succeed together:

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Lesson 1: Disagreement ≠ bad

Disagreement is not bad thing.

Disagreement can be a sign of equitable office dynamic. If decisions are always made top-down or by one single individual, this can cause resentment or a sense of futility in making the best choice. On the other hand, disagreements shouldn’t translate to angry emails or screaming matches during a meeting. Two cornerstones to help you have productively disagreements:

Transparent decision making:

  • Why are we choosing option 1 vs. option 2 vs. option 3?
  • What are the trade-offs?
  • What is the current priority?
  • Who will sign off on the final decision?

Empathy in the midst of conflict:

  • What are their concerns?
  • How can you find common ground?
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Lesson 2: Communicate expectations

Non-designers aren’t expected to know everything you know. Some of them may have never worked with designers or UX folks before. They may have misconceptions about what design does in an organization and have unspoken expectations about what you do.

So if there is misunderstanding about the role of design or important requirements you need, kindly communicate those needs upfront.

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Lesson 3: Focus on being resourceful

There’s a tendency for many of us to be steered toward a lifestyle of being achievement oriented. You may have grown up with certificates of achievement or treasuring small trophies as a token of milestones achieved.

However, this pursuit of accolades can cost us. We become tied to our accomplishments and fearful of others reactions and expectations, we lose the genuine enjoyment of doing things that are new and unknown.

As I worked longer on a product area, I found myself picking up alternative ways of solving a problem or having a depth of knowledge on a product, rather than simply trying to achieve the next milestone.

Rather than just focusing on success, focusing on what you learned and how that can be applied is just as important. This adds to the overall “toolbox” of skills I can apply when approached with any new problem, which will serve me farther in the long run.

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Lesson 4: Share mistakes

I can’t stress enough the importance of including mistakes when sharing learning with the rest of your team.

Learning can come from both positive and negative experiences, but both are helpful if you want to have a thriving team.

However being honest about mistakes is only possible when there’s underlying trust within a workplace. Can we trust vulnerability to our peers, our team, our leadership without being retaliated against? Can we share how we learned from mistakes with our manager? If we feel discomfort (or fear) with the previous questions, dig deeper into what barriers are in the way. Consider if there’s a standard of trust and transparency that your leadership can help to create and emphasize.

Keep in mind, the goal of learning and sharing is to help others succeed and find common goals.

By having an attitude of “what can I do to help others succeed?” — we benefit our team dynamic and ability to influence others.
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Lesson 5: History teaches valuable lessons

When it comes to joining a new project or workplace, be aware that history gives context to a problem. Spend time understanding the past culture or team dynamics which made exacerbate any workplace problems you might have.

Perhaps there’s a key person that has been with the team from the start or someone with more experience in the workplace who can help you learn about the team’s history and figure our the best way to approach your situation.

Thanks for reading!