Client: “I don’t like this.”
Designer (Silent screaming: Whaaat the ….. ): “But this was designed according to the brief.”
Client: “This isn’t what I want.”
Designer: “Oh… all I did was follow the brief correctly.”
Client: “Change it.”
Racing in my mind: I want to pull my hair and scratch your face.
The above is such a common conversation, but of course, exists in different forms. And in our daily lives, there are many such conversations that occur not just with our clients, but with internal teams and in our personal lives too.
Communications has always been an area of interest for me, personally. I have not studied it deeply but of late, the topic has come up in many ways in different contexts and I thought I’d share what I have learned recently.
All communications are primarily made up of the following components:
- Assertions (Facts) — “The ad size is 234 (W) x 545 (H)px.”
- Assessments (Opinions)— “The ad size is too small.”
- Requests/Offers — “Please make the ad size bigger, to 500 (W) x 800 (H) pixel. Or May I offer to increase the ad size to 500 (W) x 800 (H) pixel?”
- Promises — “I will do that by 6pm today.”
- Declarations — “Thank you.”
Above is just a simple example of a conversation that occurs on a daily basis. Some common misconceptions about communication are that it is easier within a team (internal) or with family/friends compared to having one with a client (external). However, if communications are not handled with care, then the chances of miscommunication are bound to happen.
In this read, we will explore the first two: Assertions (Facts) and Assessments (Opinions). It is critical, in my opinion, to be able to differentiate the two. Most people muddle the two up when distinctions are not clearly made. When the two are unclear in someone’s mind, miscommunication or misunderstanding happens.
ASSERTIONS (Facts) & ASSESSMENTS (Opinions)
To put things in context, let’s pretend that we are now in a Design Critique/Review session (it does not matter whether this is with your working team or with a client). And this is what you hear:
“I don’t like this yellow colour.” (Assessment — Opinion)
“The text is not legible when the yellow font colour sits on the orange background.” (Assertion — Fact)
Having the distinction to distinguish an assessment from an assertion as a designer is a great way to facilitate conversations. More powerfully, it generates conversations that will produce clear actions to take.
Here’s another example where you may hear at a testing session:
“This app sucks.” (Again, an assessment)
“When I am filling out the form and made a mistake in one of the fields, the page reloads and clears my earlier entries altogether!” (Assertion — Fact)
Or feedback could come in the form of an assessment but once you are able to distinguish whether the feedback is an assertion or an assessment, the next question or action will become clearer.
So what do we do when we hear “This app sucks.”? Our next response can possibly be finding out what exactly this person means by asking clarifying questions like “Will you elaborate on that?” or “Please show me which areas that aren’t optimal.”, instead of stomping off and trying to figure out what exactly they mean.
Let’s explore the area of Assessments further.
In the above scenario, there are many possible assessments that we may derive from the event: John’s design was shot down. However, how we assess the situation is what makes the scenario interesting. More importantly, how we assess will influence the future we create.
- Do we stay in this assessment and approach John with our surface assessments that he will screw up again, thus proving “I am right about John.”? or
- Do we take the initiatives to find out more in order to ‘ground’ our assessments?
In the second scenario, we can possibly approach John to find out more about what happened. Perhaps there was a miscommunication or last-minute change-of-mind from the client’ part. By finding out more, it may help us to ground our assessment about John and gives us options on how we want to approach John in future.
Having the above distinction has helped us in the way we approach conversations and also see how our assessments not only affect our future actions but also give us better insights into the kind of observer that we are.
To sum this all up. The following are quick tips on how we can communicate more effectively:
- Differentiate — With every conversation, make it a practice to differentiate Assertions from Assessments. Assertions are facts, nothing we can change about them. Assessments are opinions, they are NOT the truth. You will get better over time!
- Grounding assessments — Now that you have acquired this new distinction, you then have a choice to ‘ground’ the assessment. If you receive an assessment, for e.g. Person A who happens to have no aesthetics sense (Note that this is an assessment! But it could be from your previous experience with Person A that you derive this assessment.), gives you feedback that the design is not pleasant-looking, you may choose to ignore that comment and not do anything about it, versus a fellow designer who gives you similar feedback, you can then find out further what ought to be changed.
- Care — Lastly, whether you are serving up your assessment to others or someone giving you their opinion, know that they have an impact and that we take more care with giving and receiving them. Human relationships are highly complex and precious. It is our responsibility to care for every conversation we make.
This is just scraping the surface on effective communication, I will continue to share more insights along the way. Hope you find this read helpful… More to come!