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The loudest voice isn’t the most valuable

Linnéa Strid
Dec 7, 2017 · 7 min read

Speak up. Lean in. Take charge. Be more assertive.

It’s used in many different contexts, although perhaps most notably as a reprimand or encouragement aimed at women in tech. And while I’ll spare you a magnum opus on whether or not women actually need or want to hear this advice*, there’s something that has really bothered me about it:

Isn’t it strange to put so much importance on a personality trait that has so little to do with the creation of value?

Have you ever followed that one mate who always pretends to know where they’re going? Then you’re painfully aware that when someone looks like they know what they’re doing, it doesn’t guarantee they’re actually any good at it. Just because someone can “sell sand in Sahara” doesn’t mean it’s a good business proposition. The ability to argue for an opinion or idea doesn’t automatically come with the ability to come up with good ones — or even the ability to judge if they’re any good.

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Listen. Lean back. Let go. Be more observant.

Obviously, this advice is almost exactly as useless as telling people to be more assertive. As you might have guessed, just telling people to be different isn’t really an effective way of changing who they are. However, becoming aware of this bias is enough to start tackling the problem. Instead of expecting individuals to change, maybe we can change how they interact?

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Method 1. Work alone, then take turns

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  • Structure is really helpful here. Define clearly what you want thoughts on and how many notes each person should write. For examples, in a retrospective we ask for 3 positives, 3 negatives, and 3 improvements.
  • Everyone writes alone — no peeking!
  • Take turns presenting the notes to the group, clustering similar ones on a whiteboard as you go.
  • Once themes have been identified, you can discuss each cluster in more detail. Have someone take on a facilitating role and make sure each cluster/note is discussed.

Method 2. Feedback like Facebook

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  • All feedback is given in the form of questions. The presenter gets a chance to answer each question, ask a counter question, or note down the question for later if there’s something they can’t answer during the session.
  • The group takes turns giving feedback. A facilitator helps keep the feedback session on track.

Method 3. Judge ideas anonymously

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  • Have everyone work on it individually for the same amount of time. Tell people not to write their name on anything
  • Create a “gallery” of ideas, by pasting them on the wall or creating a presentation/playlist. (If a presentation, one person will be a facilitator and the only one who knows the person behind the idea. It’s usually better if they don’t vote)
  • After everyone has seen all the ideas, have them write down what they like about each idea. (If they’re on a wall, you can then let them mark out the things they like with a “heat map”
  • Once the voting is done, discuss what everyone liked most about each idea, and why they liked it. During the discussions the author can clarify what they meant, but it shouldn’t be a “pitch” of the idea.

Method 4. Be a gracious designer

Remember how I said telling people how they should be is stupid? Well…I’m just going to go ahead and do that now. Whether it’s yourself, your team, your clients or your user, try to be aware of how this bias can influence your work, and make a conscious effort to counteract it.

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  • Did you convince your team and clients to go with your idea? Make sure that it’s really the best idea, and not because you got carried away with convincing them.
  • Did you get super excited about an idea someone else presented? Think critically about why you liked it — was it the person or the actual idea? Sleep on it and check up on any claims or assumptions that were made in the presentation.
  • Are you conducting user interviews? Make sure that your interviewees are comfortable. If someone seems quiet or shy, try to understand how you can get more out of them. Often, getting them to chat about a subject they like is a great way to make someone open up.

Apegroup — Behind the Screens

Thoughts, learnings and opinions from a digital product…

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