Strengthening your UX soft skills


If you’re looking to get into UX, I suggest making soft skills your first step. This can help you decide if UX is the right career path for you before you make an educational investment. If you’ve already started your UX education journey, building your soft skills should be your next step. Soft skills can help you apply your knowledge to any project with any employer. Active listening and empathy/compassion are key skills for success in a UX career, as they are important for understanding business needs and goals, working with colleagues, and gaining actionable insights from user research.

 Active listening is the act of giving someone your focused attention with the intent to understand, while empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and see things from their perspective. Recent neuroscience research has found that while empathy can invoke first-person negative emotions, compassion invokes positive feelings of concern and a desire to help, so those same areas of the brain are not activated. To strengthen your active listening and empathy skills, there are many resources available, such as Ted Talks, Udemy courses, books, and LinkedIn courses. For example, Celeste Headlee's Ted Talk, "10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation," offers tips for being a better listener and conversationalist. The book "Deploy Empathy" provides tips for conducting user interviews, while the LinkedIn course "Empathy in UX Design" offers an in-depth understanding of empathy and how to apply it to your work with colleagues, customers, and users.

 Design decisions should never be arbitrary or based on personal preferences. Instead, every decision should be made with careful consideration, taking into account user research findings, established conventions, design principles, and business goals. To improve problem-solving and critical thinking skills, it is important to understand the concept and key steps of critical thinking. To do this, one can watch a TED Talk on the subject, take a Skillshare course on asking questions, read Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow, and take a LinkedIn course on Using Questions to Foster Critical Thinking.

 Design is a team effort that requires people with different skills and perspectives to come together. To be successful, it is important to be able to collaborate with others who may have different communication styles, manage opposing viewpoints, and negotiate design compromises that take into account various constraints, opportunities, and risks. To help develop these skills, consider taking a course such as Collaboration for Creatives: Make Your Project Better, Creative Collaboration, or reading the book Getting to Yes. These resources will provide techniques for gaining insights from others, sharing ideas, and removing creative blocks to help you work towards creative solutions.

 Communication is a vital part of UX processes, and having the ability to present ideas and facilitate discussions is essential for UX careers. You don't have to be an extrovert, but you must be able to build trust and have meaningful conversations with different people and roles. To improve your communication and presentation skills, consider reading Tom Greever's book Articulating Design Decisions, which covers topics such as communicating the value of UX, understanding other perspectives, handling rejections, building trust, facilitating design reviews, and gaining approval. You could also take the LinkedIn course Communication Foundations to learn how to tackle awkward situations, tailor your message to your audience, and pitch your ideas with exercises. Presentation Design for Smart People is a comprehensive Skillshare course for creating impactful, narrative, presentations, and the Udemy course Public Speaking: A tactical approach offers strategies for public speaking, overcoming common challenges, and keeping people engaged. 

Time management is a common challenge for many UX professionals, who often have multiple concurrent tasks and conflicting priorities. To become more effective in planning your work, dealing with distractions, and adapting to changes, consider reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book offers advice on how to break bad habits and has better self-control to improve time management. Additionally, Adam Grant's Ted Talk How to stop languishing and start finding flow is a great source of motivation for tackling procrastination. You could also take the LinkedIn courses Scheduling for Creatives and Time Management Fundamentals to learn how to manage tight schedules, and unexpected changes, and effectively adapt while accounting for your work style and team environment.

Strengthening UX-applicable soft skills like active listening, problem-solving, collaborating, communicating and time management will equip you with skills that will improve your ability to adapt to different projects, people, and problems. These soft skills can boost your confidence and will prepare you to meet the diverse challenges of UX work.

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