Let’s dive into the topic of listening and its significance in the realm of user experience (UX). Let’s begin with a story that perfectly encapsulates the issue at hand.
Imagine a scenario where a team conducts thorough research, understands the customer’s needs, and presents a clear vision during a service line meeting. However, the product team decides to prioritize the business case over the use case, leading them astray.
Unsurprisingly, the results are less than favorable. Now, they are trying to redirect the product towards the original proposal from the user experience team.
In frustration, one team member turns to another and exclaims, “Nobody ever listens to user experience.” This sentiment resonates with many professionals in the field, including myself. It’s a common complaint that we often hear from our colleagues, leaders, stakeholders, and even customers — they feel unheard.
Interestingly, I came across a quote by David Leebron, a former president of Rice University, who likened being a college president to “walking through a graveyard.” He felt that although he had many people underneath him, nobody was truly listening. This struck a chord with me and made me question whether the issue of listening extends beyond our specific organizations or professions. Perhaps it’s a human condition — a widespread struggle to listen attentively.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with several organizations that sought help and were genuinely engaged. However, listening wasn’t their strong suit. This observation isn’t meant to be derogatory; it’s simply an acknowledgment that sometimes we find ourselves in a position where we need to put on our “listening ears.” We must close the trapdoor of our own voices and open our minds to engage more effectively.
To illustrate this point further, let’s turn to the world of Harry Potter. Imagine if you could wear Harry’s invisibility cloak and move around your organization. You would likely overhear frontline workers, developers, and product owners saying, “Nobody ever listens to us.” Even in corporate meetings, CEOs might wonder, “Why doesn’t anyone listen?” Meanwhile, somewhere in the world, a college professor wonders if anyone is even listening to her. Maybe my colleague was right — no one listens to you. But perhaps teams also struggle to listen to others. While I don’t necessarily believe that’s entirely true, it’s worth considering that our collective preoccupation with being heard prevents us from truly listening.
In this cacophony of self-centeredness, we need to find a balance. We must dial down the noise and take the time to listen genuinely. Listening is an art — a skill that goes beyond mere hearing. It involves absorbing information, processing it, and transforming it into something meaningful. By applying what we’ve learned, we can make others feel heard. Time is one of the greatest gifts we can offer someone. When we truly listen, we shut off the outside world and dedicate those precious moments to making others feel acknowledged.
When people feel heard, a connection forms with those who are willing to listen. If you desire to be heard, you must first invest your time in listening to others and establishing connections with them. Over time, I’ve discovered that when we genuinely listen instead of merely hearing, our ability to make connections improves. We become better equipped to understand what needs to be done and maintain those vital connections.
Regardless of our expertise as UX strategists, designers, product owners, or stakeholders, UX remains a people-centric discipline. To appreciate the value of UX, we must take the time to understand how people think and cultivate meaningful relationships. Otherwise, our work may go unnoticed, and our voices will remain unheard. It’s somewhat of a chicken-and-egg situation — in order to be heard, we need to listen. And to listen effectively, we must ensure that others feel heard as well. While this approach may not work perfectly in every scenario, it certainly sets us on the right path.
Remember, listening is an art, and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Sometimes, we need to intentionally slow down our own speaking tempo to allow others to interject and share their thoughts. By doing so, not only will they appreciate it, but they will also feel included in the listening journey.