“What makes a great UX practitioner?” someone asked me one day with genuine curiosity, unaware of what the Product Design role implies. “What do you need to know?”. As I tried to come up with an accurate answer, all the interactions I had racing through my mind, I realized how unexpected my answer would seem if I verbalized it. As people expect, Design is about having creativity and visual skills, and when it comes to digital Design, at least some basic tech knowledge. Even if all of those are true and are part of the Product Design role, they are not the ones that differentiate Designers.
If you dig deeper, you might think of their ability to organize and distill messy content into a simple system that makes sense for everyone. You might be thinking about communication and empathy. Or you might look into the constant give and take that the job entails. Product Design faces many constraints, from concrete ones (e.g., technical, budget, time) to abstract ones (e.g., culture, maturity). Whether it involves clients, users, or colleagues, the job of a Product Designer entails a great deal of negotiation. Being a great Designer means being a good negotiator sometimes.
Situations where we need to negotiate something, are everywhere. Who does what? What if we have conflicting priorities? How do I convince my client to do more research? As Designers, we’ve all asked ourselves these questions at some point. Some endeavors might have been more successful than others, so let’s dive in and see how we can tip the scale to more successful negotiations.
Top 5 tactics?
The negotiation landscape is vast, even if we try to limit it to the Design field. We will not cover political negotiations or what persuasion tactics we can apply to get things our way. If we think beyond those, we realize that negotiation in our field is when humans interact with each other, trying to reach a common goal. It’s not always about dollars or deal terms; fundamentally, it’s about human interaction.
We always try to engage with other people with different backgrounds, opinions, goals, or roles, aiming to reach better agreements, whether these will be written on a piece of paper or not. Looking at negotiations through this lens brings forward certain principles that make you more likely to be effective. Tactics can vary from negotiation to negotiation, context to context, but sticking to some underlying principles is applicable across all areas. How can we improve human interaction and communication?
Going too fast is a mistake many people engaging in negotiations are making. If you are in a hurry, people can feel they are not being heard; they don’t get the chance to establish a real connection and have a dialogue. You limit the other person’s understanding and ability to connect with your rationale by quickly reciting your demands or opinions.
Negotiations are usually tough, and stakes feel higher when they are personal or if they influence your work. Whether it’s about getting some budget for research or scrapping the CEO’s favorite feature because users don’t find any value in it, we rush to get our demands on the table as soon as possible and hope for the best. We allow the message to go out of our heads, not caring whether it has reached its destination and purpose. Defense mode kicks in, and we can’t wait to get out of an uncomfortable situation, which is absolutely natural.
It can be your hiring manager, colleague, client, or partner when you are trying to convince them where to go on vacation. Slowing down and giving others time to understand your needs can go a long way in both professional and personal life. So give yourself a little extra time explaining what your needs are and why, and allow others to process your message as questions. Leave room for proper judgment and understanding, enable your message to reach the other party, and you will be surprised at how fruitful dialogue can be.
Thinking about the other side
Whenever we don’t achieve what we want in a negotiation process, we tend to blame either ourselves for our poor negotiation skills or the other party for not offering us what we want. While these situations can be real, as with most things, negotiations are never black and white. Even if you deserve what you are demanding and the other party is willing to negotiate in your favor, it might not always be possible. External factors might come in, whether we are talking about business, tehnical, or strategy constraints. Have you helped them justify your demand? What are their constraints? Before concluding that the negotiation hit rock bottom, make sure you list your “whys” and practice active listening.
Sometimes their hands are tied. Sometimes there are different currencies in which someone can reward you. When you come to more specific asks, people might not be able to respond and provide something right away, but they might enable something else. Clients might not always allow all the time in the world for research, but they might be able to help with extra resources such as experts or people to reach out to.
Proving a clear reason and listening to the other party make a great pair with being transparent. Many tensions, both in personal and professional life, come from not clearly expressing our expectations.
The need to be transparent and as open as possible about your strategy and intentions can depend on your context. Still, since we are talking about business and reaching a common goal, it’s helpful to be clear about your priorities and what you need and value most. If you are unclear, the other person might end the negotiation thinking they’ve met you halfway, but in reality, you are nowhere near your initial goal.
When you show people the multidimensional you and give them a better understanding of your priorities, you might be surprised how things can go your way.
Always come prepared
Imagine you are driving to work daily, you go on trips, you’ve been doing it sore several years now; it became an automatism. You never think about it that much, and you have your routine. One day, someone accompanies you and asks you to teach them how to drive. No matter how great a driver you are, you still need time to think about each step you take. What order should I teach them, and what happens if they make a mistake?
It’s the same when we are negotiating with someone: no matter how firmly we believe that what we are asking is natural and the best thing to do, no matter how many times we’ve thought about it, it still requires significant effort to bring someone up to speed with your ideas. Something natural to us might suddenly become very unnatural.
The key to a successful negotiation is to come as prepared as possible, whether there is a new freelance project you are negotiating your price for or a new feature in an ongoing one. Specifically to UX Design, you can bring no better argument than research, whether by talking and testing with your users or looking into the competition. It all comes down to having a “Why?” and how powerful it is.
So, let’s do a quick recap of some guiding principles that will help you negotiate the next feature or workplace responsibility:
Don’t focus on tactics; you are not negotiating a hostage situation. Think about what you would do in a positive, honest human interaction;
Don’t rush through a list of demands. Make time work for you, allowing the other person to understand you and what you want to achieve. We are more likely to go with things we know and to reject the unknown.
Try to understand if the other party has constraints as well. Allow them to meet you halfway. Also, be transparent and clear about your needs; otherwise, people might conclude the negotiation in a way that is not beneficial to you, even though it seems like a success.
Like any other thing in life, take some time to prepare. Information is power, and coming in prepared will also make you more confident and increase the chances of a successful negotiation.