by fffunction

18 Jan 2014

Get good at talking to people

A while ago someone tweeted asking people for folks to say what the best thing you’ve ever done for your career in tech was. My answer was this: “Get good at talking to people.”

Like all the best “what single piece of advice would you give?” answers, it’s a bit sneaky because it’s actually multiple pieces of advice. Being good at talking to people can help you get a good job, get good work that’s interesting for smart and nice clients, find good people and organisations to collaborate with, and learn more from your peers than you would listening to a talk or a workshop.

It’s also crucial if you want to work effectively with your clients to help them achieve their goals and aims (and even to help them learn what those goals and aims actually are) and if you want to put users at the centre of your design process. I really hope you do want to do both of those things. Interviews and workshops with stakeholders and users are a key part of an effective design process and if you’re good at them, the insights you’ll get will pay dividends.

Then there’s the whole public speaking thing. Even if you don’t want to make it big on the conference circuit, if you can step up to rather than shying away from running a meeting, leading a workshop or giving a two minute pitch at a networking thing, you’ll earn the respect of your colleagues and your peers.

If I looked at myself fifteen odd years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be very good at any of these things since I’m essentially an introvert. But I genuinely think that getting good at these thing has helped me enormously in my ‘career’ (I’m still rather reluctant to think I have one of those).

So how do you get good? Actually the only tangible thing I can think of which I’ve done is a telephone and face-to-face counselling course I took with Nightline when I was at university. Being taught how to listen properly and how to reflect and respond without leading, judging or offering opinion has ended up being very useful to me in just about every situation where I’ve ended up talking to somebody ever since. Other than that, it’s all about getting on and doing it. The more you do these things, the better you get at reading people, judging the situation and knowing what to say and how and when to say it. Remember that everyone else is learning how to get better at this all the time so we’re all in the same boat. Be positive, be enthusiastic and just be there doing it and you’ll reap the benefits of being an effective talker.

By Dan Goodwin - @bouncingdan

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