Climbing the Creative Ladder by Doing What I Hate — Talking to People

How Learning to Communicate Can Improve Your Career

Michael Buckley
Jan 26, 2020 · 6 min read

If there’s one thing I hate most about our day-to-day culture, it’s small talk. I find it fake, pointless, and counterproductive — plus, I’m terrible at it. In general, as you may have surmised, I’m not a people person. Part of the reason I became a graphic designer is because of the solitude.

I’ve always been interested in profound, meaningful conversations about new ideas and abstract thoughts. I‘ll take a philosophical discussion at the water cooler about the ethical implications of eating meat over the dull “how was your weekend” bullshit conversation.

A few years ago, I took a Myers Briggs personality test. My results typed me as an INTJ — the “Architect.” This particular personality is considered introverted, highly analytical, and extremely self-reliant. This result seemed fitting to my demeanor. It was comforting to know my behavior of coming across as cold and brutally honest when I interact with others, especially in a work environment, is typical for my personality type. My focus has always been about getting the job done with as little dilly-dallying as possible.

The downside of being quiet, reserved, and avoiding human interaction is it happens to be a recipe for hitting a career wall, especially if you’re a creative professional. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of effective communication and its positive effects on career success and personal growth.

Remembering the Quiet Days

Avoiding conversing with co-workers was never a problem back when I was a young graphic designer. Novice designers seldom work directly with clients and upper management. They usually report to an Art or Project Manager who is responsible for gathering and relaying the details of a project. Communication is not a huge requirement for this position as compared to other departments. I remember I could go an entire day hunkered in my cubicle without uttering a peep to anyone. Those were the good old days.

When I stepped up to an Art Director, I had to speak more frequently at staff and project meetings. I was nervous at doing this, and I still am to this day. However, once I dove into a topic I knew well, such as print design or website wireframes, my knowledge turned into confidence, which shined through my apprehensive behavior.

Another significant change as an Art Director was the responsibility of managing and communicating with design staff, something I had never experienced. The idea of having to articulate my thoughts and convey ideas with co-workers was a bit overwhelming at first. But eventually, I grew into the role because I realized these are designers who share similar views to that of my own.

Recently I was promoted to a Creative Director. My responsibilities shifted quite a bit. Not only do I have to think about the design aspects of a project, but I must communicate with significantly more people outside of the design bubble. Most of whom have incredibly different personalities and perspectives on just about everything concerning business and design.

Why Communicating is Necessary

Understanding the business and client-side of projects requires verbally communicating many questions and ideas. Excellent communication is the key to successful outcomes. Not only did this concept inspire me to develop better communication skills, but I also discovered taking on this new responsibility drove me to gain insight into every angle of the business process.

I found myself asking these three fundamental questions about every new project. What are the goals for the client, business, and user?

Unfortunately, the best way to answer these questions is to speak with a variety of people. This means talking to key players in each department to develop a strategic creative plan. The one skill I struggled with my whole life, talking to others, is now part of my daily design process. Great.

There are specific departments I tend to converse with ease. Editorial is one of these domains. This comfort may be due to the fact a significant portion of the editorial staff at my place of work is somewhat introverted. If you’ve ever been in a room full of introverts, the atmosphere is either incredibly quiet or filled with conversations about exciting books or captivating ideas.

Another possible reason for my comfortable editorial communication could be their focus on the content and user. Designers also tend to spend a great deal of time concentrating their design efforts within the same framework.

Understanding the user and content side is only part of the equation. I’ve also learned over the years the importance of analytics and metrics. These measurements are an excellent method of determining the success of a design. Testing through A/B emails or developing multiple landing pages to understand which design layout performs best are great ways of measuring achievement. It’s because of this interest I’m find communicating with the marketing department manageable.

I’ve found it essential to understand some of the jargon used by marketing to communicate ideas. Words such as KPI (Key Performance Indicator), ROI (Return on Investment), SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and CTA (Call to Action) are valuable marketing terms I use to communicate thoughts and insights about project goals.

And last but not least there’s the sales department. This area is where communication is the most difficult and also the most important.

From my experience, most salespeople are extroverted. This personality trait is their superpower. They are the masters of small talk. I highly recommend sitting in on a business conversation with a salesperson and client. It’s quite magical.

Because I work for a publishing company, our setup is a bit different from a traditional creative agency. Our sales team is in direct communication with our clients and sponsors. This barrier means I must work with sales to decipher what the client’s expectations and intended goals are.

For example, if a client wants us to produce a video, and we plan on promoting that video on our website, we must inquire how the client intends to measure the success of the project. Most times, achieving these requirements can be accomplished by providing digital analytics and metrics. Such information is vital when developing marketing copy, editorial content, and creative assets. Deciphering the client’s goals provides a clear direction for design, as well as the business.

You’re Never Done Talking

Working with various departments and clients can be challenging. Delegating these ideas and responsibilities to my design team is another area where excellent communication is a must. If I can’t translate the information I’ve received accurately, the projects are likely to fail.

If you think you’ve completed your job once you’ve gathered all the necessary project information, delegated it to your team, and completed the task at hand, you’re in for a surprise. At the end of a campaign’s development, you must attain how successful your efforts were. That means speaking to those who can decipher the analytics and determine the progress of these projects. Sales will want to know if they can sell it again, or if alterations must be made to the design or composition to improve outcomes.

The Road to Improving Communication Skills

One area that’s helped me improve my communication is understanding my unique personality, as well as others. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying all the 16 personality types in the Myers Briggs system. This information allows me to understand different perspectives and insights before making judgments or jumping to conclusions about co-worker’s actions and behaviors. It’s essential to note I use this as a tool rather than a way of labeling people.

When it comes to having actual project conversations, I find developing a clear set of questions is an excellent approach for improving business communication skills.

Our job, as designers, is to solve problems. And to do that, we must ask many questions and be able to formulate measurable outcomes from these inquiries. We need to think of ourselves as strategic business masterminds using our creativity and experience to complete business, client, and user goals.

Embracing What You Dislike

I wouldn’t say I like the idea of having to communicate with co-workers all day. This sentiment doesn’t mean I hate people. It’s merely a combination of being uncomfortable with small talk and having to deal with some of the ineffective methods of communicating. And for introverts, this is an especially painful process that physically drains us. However, knowing effective communication will likely produce compelling design compositions and successful outcomes, make it worth the discomfort and effort.

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Michael Buckley

Written by

Design strategist interested in philosophy, psychology, and problem-solving. I write to explore my thoughts and share ideas. Typical INTJ.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +800K followers.

Michael Buckley

Written by

Design strategist interested in philosophy, psychology, and problem-solving. I write to explore my thoughts and share ideas. Typical INTJ.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +800K followers.

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