Improve your UX: how to stop being angry and start empathising

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Information about Improve your UX: how to stop being angry and start empathising

Published on January 20, 2014

Author: CJAtherton



Chris Atherton (@finiteattention) at #DareConf Mini, 20th January 2014.

From the conference programme:

Other people can drive us crazy. So when understanding people forms a big part of your job, you have two choices: be driven crazy, or start finding people delightful, pronto. In this session, Chris will explain why understanding people for a living will make you happier. You’ll learn:

* the #1 rule for liking people more,
* how to use barely-games to start empathising with other people,
* how to start scary conversations by setting simple challenges (spoiler: they’re not really that scary), and
* how to turn conversations into services that do what your business and your customers actually want

UPDATE: video of this now available: If you enjoy it, please donate! It helps Dare run another event again soon.

Hi, I’m Chris. I’m the Incredible Hulk. I get ANGRY.

It’s not an empowering anger. I’m basically a toddler.

I was an angry teenager. Heavy metal, Pink Floyd … you know.

I channelled a lot of it into sport. Kayaking, mainly.

If you ever need to feel angry and infuriated with humanity, I recommend front-line telephone support.

Occasionally I ran away to be with books for a living. Safer.

First proper boss. The worst kind of bully: a clever one.

I drove 200 miles in a van with all my stuff …

… and went back to books, which are safer.

I got quite good at the book-learning thing, and for a while was privileged to teach other people

But science, and academia, are quite lonely places. And both require a certain level of detachment from people.

But the anger was still there, and it came out at management. We did not have very good management for a few years.

I trained for and ran a half-marathon, mainly out of fury and desperation

Then I left to become a software company intern.

I learned about usability testing and how to work with people.

And I realised that people are actually amazing.

(liking people is important, because without liking, there’s no empathy, and without empathy, you can’t build the right stuff)

Spending high-quality time with people will make you feel better not just about them, but about people generally.

It’s important to be specific about that high-quality thing: low quality time with people is the fast track to misanthropy.

Thought Orson Scott Card was a bigot? It’s complicated.

Developers ask, How do you not get angry with people during UX testing? But you can’t; they’re just people, trying hard.

You have to practice to remain good at anything; spending quality time is no different. Without it, things seem greyer.

It is frightening, to arrange to test a thing with strangers. But overcoming that fear is such a worthwhile thing to try.

Use Getting Things Done’s “next action” to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

So at this point, I’ve achieved enlightenment, right?

WRONG! Still angry.

Angry with idiot stubborn colleagues who don’t get it.

Simon Bostock told me a story about a guy he taught who was just impossible. Of course, there was a back story.

It appealed to the child in me: I’m gonna like you even if you don’t want me to!

And it’s a great personal challenge, a barely-game you can play quietly without anyone knowing.

(gain, liking people is so important … if you don’t like the people you work with, how can you build anything good?)

Just find one thing to like about the person who bothers you. Start with one thing. It won’t remain one thing for long.

And of course, when you change your attitude to them, their attitude to you will change, too.

The stubbornness that turned you off so badly at the start? It can be useful when it’s working for you, not against you.

Amazing things happen if you can just put your ego aside.

Bonus challenge: get your colleagues to change their attitudes about someone generally considered troublesome.

Surely now, enlightenment?

Nope. Still angry. Often.

But keep practicing spending quality time, and with finding something to like

and incrementally, you will start listening to yourself sooner, and stop being angry sooner. Disengaged from your project? Go spend some quality time with the people who’ll be using it. Angry with someone? Get to know them better.

I hope this has been useful.

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