Healthy Assertiveness for Team Communication and Collaboration

At the beginning of my career, I worked as a front-end developer and UX Designer on many challenging and diverse teams. When presenting my design to the back-end developers, they often said it wasn’t possible without explanation. This frustrated me, and over time, I found myself being more and more aggressive. This behavior could have easily been perceived as arrogant or even combative. Thanks to an excellent leader who called me out on this many years ago, I learned to be more sensitive to others while still getting my point across. I learned how to be assertive.

Assertiveness means collaborating with honesty and respect for other’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Being assertive, not aggressive, has helped me succeed as a UX designer by allowing me to communicate my ideas, collaborate with stakeholders, address challenges, and advocate for user-centered design principles. By embracing assertiveness, I’ve built a solid professional presence and established myself as a valuable asset in the UX design community.

I’ve broken down how to become more assertive so that you can also have a successful and fulfilling career. It’s up to you how far you will go and how intentional you will be with your growth and progress.

Why We Need Assertiveness

We can improve our self-esteem and identity by expressing ourselves more confidently. Clearly stating our needs increases the chance of meeting them. Improving our self-esteem creates a snowball effect where our confidence continuously grows.

Being assertive saves energy and reduces tension by removing the worry of upsetting others or being too aggressive. Practicing assertiveness increases resilience, making it easier to assert oneself in the future.

Assertiveness Defined

Assertiveness refers to a way of behaving and communicating with others. It involves expressing our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs honestly without violating other people’s rights. It’s a better alternative to being aggressive or manipulative, where we abuse other people’s rights, or being passive, where we abuse our rights.

By being assertive, we can:

  • Express our emotions and opinions without feeling self-conscious or aggressive.
  • Ask for what you want.
  • Say no to what you don’t want.
  • Get your needs and wants to be met.
  • Gain others’ respect and build influence.

Sometimes, we struggle to be assertive, especially in difficult situations. The ‘DESC’ model can help us express our feelings and achieve our desired outcomes.

Am I Assertive Enough?

To determine if you are not assertive enough at work or in most situations, answer the questions below with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Do you struggle with these challenges?

You may want to be more assertive if you answer ‘yes’ to 3 or more of the questions below.

  1. Feel under-appreciated, under-valued, and not recognized for your hard work?
  2. Often find yourself quiet in situations where you wish you had said something.
  3. Ruminate and replay responses over and over in your mind?
  4. Feel conflicted between speaking up and being a decent nice person?
  5. Are you afraid of sounding mean, aggressive, or rude when you stand up for yourself?
  6. Find it hard to ask for what you want.
  7. Want to feel in control over your career and time?
  8. Miss out on opportunities at work because others don’t notice you?

Do you feel challenged by these emotions?

You may need to be more assertive if you answer ‘yes’ to 2 or more questions below.

  1. Stress
  2. Guilt
  3. Shame
  4. Hopeless
  5. Impostor syndrome
  6. Overwhelmed


Improve how you talk about yourself.

  • Pay attention to your thoughts by journaling and becoming more aware of what’s on your mind.
  • Identify any negative thoughts. For example, you might think, “I’m terrible at board meetings. I’m so awkward, and I always say the wrong thing.”
  • Challenge your negative thoughts. Think about all the board meetings where things went well. Remember how you felt and how people responded to you.
  • Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. Tell yourself, “I do well in meetings because I’m an engaging speaker and a good listener.”

Your use of language and body language matters.

  • Maintain good posture.
  • Make eye contact if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • Face the speaker when you’re listening to them.
  • Use friendly or neutral facial expressions.
  • Use confident, intentional gestures.
  • Keep your voice calm and controlled.

Be brief and stick to your point to get your message across.

  • Don’t keep adding to your message or repeating your words.
  • Write your script in advance, practice with a trusted colleague, and ask for feedback on how it sounds.
  • Try not to be distracted by excuses the other person makes. While you may acknowledge these, the key to the effectiveness of this approach is to stick to your point and get your message across.

Examples of Getting Your Point Across

👎 Instead of saying…👍 Say this instead…
There’s this thing tonight if you want to come. Not sure if you’re into it.I’m going to a concert tonight. I’d love for you to come with me if you can!
I’m usually busy on Fridays.I’m sorry, I can’t attend your party on Friday—I already have other plans.
I probably won’t get around to sending those emails today.Could you please send the emails we discussed earlier? I’m really busy right now. I appreciate it!

Communication Styles and Importance

There are four (4) main types of communication styles:

  1. Passive: People who use this style repeatedly avoid conflict and have difficulty expressing their opinions and needs. They may come across as indecisive or even apologetic.
  2. Aggressive: This style involves expressing opinions forcefully and sometimes even manipulatively. Aggressive communicators may disregard the opinions and needs of others.
  3. Passive-Aggressive: This style combines elements of both passive and aggressive communication. Passive-aggressive communicators may appear agreeable on the surface but then act out subtly, undermining others.
  4. Assertive: This style involves expressing opinions and needs clearly and directly while respecting the opinions and needs of others. Assertive communicators strive for win-win outcomes rather than trying to dominate or please others.
Communication styles include aggressive, assertive, passive-aggressive, and passive.

When To Use Assertiveness

Assertiveness is a valuable communication style to use in many different situations. Here are a few examples of when to use assertiveness:

Setting Boundaries

Assertiveness allows you to set boundaries in your personal and professional life. For example, if a coworker constantly interrupts you during meetings, you can use assertiveness to explain how their behavior affects you and ask them to stop.

Expressing Your Needs and Opinions

Assertiveness gives you the tools to express your needs and opinions clearly and directly. Expressing these needs can be helpful when you feel your voice isn’t loud enough or need to advocate for yourself.

Resolving a Conflict

Assertiveness can help you resolve conflicts with others respectfully and productively. Using assertiveness, you can work together to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

When You Need to Say No

Saying no can be difficult, but assertiveness can make it easier. When you use assertiveness to say no, you can communicate your decision clearly and confidently without feeling guilty or ashamed.

Meet the DESC Model

This model can be used to communicate assertively with team members (or anyone) to express feelings and achieve desired outcomes.

The DESC model is a framework for improving assertiveness in communication. It has four steps:

  1. Describe: Specifically, describe the behavior which is negatively affecting you. Stick to the facts.
  2. Express: Explain how the behavior makes you feel. Use ‘I’ so that you take ownership of your feelings.
  3. Specify: Be clear about the desired outcome, i.e., what behavior you want them to change.
  4. Consequences: Tell them what will happen if the behavior does/does not change.

Examples Using the DESC Model

Employees are upset about being asked to work overtime due to unrealistic deadlines.

  1. Describe — Say, “I am working late 3–4 times a week to meet the deadlines you have agreed for the management reports.”
  2. Express — Say, “I feel under pressure to meet these deadlines and annoy that I can’t leave work on time like the rest of the team.”
  3. Specify — Suggest “checking with me regarding my workload before you agree to the deadlines. This will enable us to discuss what is realistic and avoid me having to work late so often.”
  4. Consequences — Explain “If I am consulted before the deadlines are agreed upon, then I will be able to focus on the detail of the reports rather than rushing to finish them.”

Loud shouting behavior that has a negative impact on the recipient.

  1. Describe — Say, “When you start shouting, I want to end the conversation immediately.”
  2. Express — Say, “I feel attacked and defensive.”
  3. Specify — Say, “I need you to tell me clearly and calmly what I’m doing to upset you so I can understand my role in this.” or “Your shouting disrupts our co-workers and our ability to focus on our customers.”
  4. Consequences — Explain “or I will ignore you.” or “so that we can work more collaboratively.”

Tips and Tricks for Using Assertiveness

Know the Difference Between Assertive and Aggressive

Being assertive means standing up for your beliefs without disrespecting others. Being aggressive means putting your needs above others’ feelings and opinions.

Communicate Effectively

Good communication is vital to assertiveness. Listen to others, express yourself clearly, and focus on facts, not assumptions.

Practice Assertiveness

Practice being assertive with your product team through role-playing. It helps you understand how you come across and how others see you. You can also practice asserting yourself by respectfully sharing your opinions and needs.

Use Assertiveness Strategies

Once you’re comfortable with the basics, use specific assertiveness strategies, such as “I” statements or “broken record” techniques. These will help you feel more in control of the conversation and respect yourself.

Your Next Steps

Overall, assertiveness is helpful for anyone looking to communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships. You can improve your personal and professional life in countless ways by understanding when to use assertiveness and how to communicate assertively.

Now that you better understand what assertiveness is and why it’s essential, it’s time to take action. Here are some steps you can take to become more assertive:

  1. Identify areas in your life where you could be more assertive. These areas could be at work, in your relationships, or in other areas of your life.
  2. Practice being assertive in low-stakes situations. Start by expressing your opinions and needs in situations with little risk involved.
  3. Use the DESC model to communicate assertively. When you encounter a situation where you need to be more assertive, use the DESC model to structure your communication.
  4. Seek feedback from others. Ask trusted friends, family members, or colleagues for feedback on your communication style and assertiveness.
  5. Continue learning about assertiveness. Read books and articles, or attend workshops to continue building your knowledge and skills.

By taking these steps, you can become more confident in expressing your needs and opinions, build stronger relationships, and achieve your personal and professional goals. Good luck, and let me know your progress!

Understanding the 5 Planes of UX

We always buy products online, and the process is usually the same.

  1. Search for the item online and go to the site.
  2. Add the product to the cart and checkout.
  3. Enter personal details and payment info.
  4. The website confirms that the product will be sent.
  5. An email appears in your inbox confirming the purchase.

Did you know this experience results from many decisions, big and small, about how the website looks, behaves, and what it lets you do? All these layers of decisions build on each other and affect every part of the user experience. To be more exact, these layers of decisions are called planes.

Cue the five planes of UX.

A user experience designer, Jesse James Garrett, introduced five UX design elements in his book The Elements of User Experience. In the book, he explains the steps of user experience projects and what UX designers should consider at each stage.

Each of the five planes is an opportunity to focus on making decisions that build the user experience of a product.

  1. Surface — look and feel
  2. Skeleton — navigation and flow
  3. Structure — organization of content and features
  4. Scope — defining the boundaries of the product
  5. Strategy — goals and objectives of the product

These five planes — strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface — provide a way to discuss user experience problems and how we solve them.

The 5 Planes of UX consists of surface, skeleton, structure, scope, and strategy.
The 5 Planes of UX — Surface, Skeleton, Structure, Scope, and Strategy.

On the bottom plane (strategy), we care about how the site fits into our strategy and meets the users’ needs. On the highest plane (surface), we only care about the product’s appearance details.

As we move from the most abstract bottom plane to the most concrete top plane, the decisions become more specific and involve finer levels of detail.

Your Choices Affect Multiple Planes

Planes depend on the lower plane attached to them. The surface plane depends on the skeleton, which depends on the structure and scope, and strategy.

Choices on the strategy plane have a ripple effect throughout the chain, and options are limited by decisions on the planes below.

When choices don’t align with these planes, it could result in the following:

  1. Projects go off track.
  2. Deadlines are missed.
  3. The cost to build increases.
  4. Customers do not like the experience.

Your choices on each plane affect your choices on the next plane above it. Choosing an option that is not allowed at a higher level will affect the decisions on lower levels. This causes a ripple effect.

Lower-level decisions (strategy, scope, or structure) can affect higher-level decisions. These decisions can have an impact in both directions.

Still, it’s only sometimes necessary to address each lower-level decision before moving on. Higher-level decisions can require a reevaluation or initial evaluation of lower-level issues.

The Order You Do Your Work Matters

Making quick decisions can hurt your project’s schedule and success. Finish work on one part before moving on to the next. When deciding on more minor changes, only make them permanent after deciding on more significant features.

Plan your project to finish lower planes before moving on to higher planes. It’s like building a house: you only make the roof after completing the foundation. Finish all the work for one part before starting on the next one. However, in real life, you might work on multiple planes simultaneously. Every decision you make will affect all the parts above it. So, finishing all the work for each plane before moving on is best. Every decision you make will be consistent and make sense across all the planes.

Get Feedback Early and Often

Sometimes an organization structures information very differently from how users would find it easiest to use. One common issue I’ve noticed is when designers get the requirements and must create the structure without getting feedback from users and stakeholders. To avoid this, involve stakeholders and get user feedback early on, and then keep making changes as necessary.


User experience design involves five planes: strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface. Decisions on each plane affect the planes above and below, and the order in which decisions are made matters. Making decisions too soon can negatively impact the project schedule and the final product’s success, so it’s essential to plan the project to ensure lower parts are finished before moving on to higher planes.

Preparing for Customer Interviews

To prepare for customer interviews, identify the right users and ask good questions. Avoid leading the conversation and summarize what you learn. Understanding your research question and goals is also essential, as is gaining perspective from users while avoiding assumptions.

Know what audience segment you need to talk to before you begin.

The goal when interviewing is to uncover opportunities (e.g., customer needs, pain points, wants, desires) that, if addressed, would move the needle for your desired outcome.

To find the correct user segment or audience to interview, consider the goals of the interview and the questions you want to answer. Identify which users are most likely to have the information you need and focus on reaching out to them. This segment could include users who have engaged with your product in a certain way, users who have given feedback in the past, or users who fit a specific demographic profile. Conducting user research to understand your audience is also helpful in identifying the right user segment to interview.

Here are some audience segment examples.

  • Users that have access to social media (paid or organic) for your product
  • Users that have searched keywords for your product (paid or organic)
  • Users entering from a particular page or site
  • Users engaged within your product
  • Users who have purchased or not purchased your product
  • Users who have abandoned a shopping cart on your site
  • Users who have spent a certain amount of time on the website or the product
  • Users who have or have not used a specific feature or function

All user interviews must have a research question.

When researching your customers, identify what you want to learn from them. Use this to create a research question to guide the process, ensuring you focus on essential insights and collect the correct data.

Note that your research question should be different from your interview question. The interview question is for gathering information, while the research question guides the process.

Consider your learning objectives and develop a research question to help you achieve them. This question will make your research more efficient and increase the chances of obtaining valuable insights that can drive business growth.

Study these sample research questions to understand how to write your questions.

Goal: To increase engagement.

  • What drives engagement today?
  • What prevents people from engaging today?

Goal: To understand user needs.

  • What are the user’s most essential needs?
  • What is the user’s biggest frustration with the current solution?

Goal: To identify opportunities for new features.

  • What features or functionality should be part of the current solution?
  • What would make the user more likely to use the solution?

Goal: To improve the user experience.

  • What are the user’s most significant pain points when using the solution?
  • What should happen to make the explanation easier or more enjoyable to use?

Interview questions should help answer your research question.

To prepare for customer interviews, create practical questions that draw out stories and reveal opportunities to improve your product. Ask questions encouraging customers to share their experiences and perspectives rather than just gathering facts.

During interviews, ask questions that help answer your research question and prompt customers to elaborate on their experiences with open-ended questions.

Get stories from customers without leading questions or statements.

When writing interview questions for customers, avoid leading or biased questions. Instead, focus on open-ended questions that encourage customers to share their experiences.

Use neutral language when asking questions during customer interviews.

To write non-leading questions, use neutral language and ask questions allowing customers to share their thoughts and experiences.

For example, instead of asking, “Do you like our product?” ask, “What are your thoughts about our product?”. Asking this type of question allows the customer to express their opinions without feeling pressured to give a specific answer.

Avoid assumptions about the customer’s experiences.

Also, try to avoid assumptions about the customer’s experiences. Instead of asking, “How did you like our new feature?” ask, “What was your experience using the new feature?”. Asking the question this way allows the customer to share their experience without conforming to your assumptions.

Overall, non-leading and non-biased questions encourage customers to share their honest thoughts and experiences, which can provide valuable insights to improve your product.

Here are some examples of great interview questions.

  • Tell me about when you first started thinking about _____.
  • Tell me about the steps you took to get started.
  • Talk about your experience when _____.
  • What expectations did you have when interacting with _____?
  • Tell me about a time when you ___.
  • What was your experience like when ___?
  • How do you typically ___?
  • Can you walk me through your thought process when ___?
  • What do you find most challenging about ___?

In Summary

To prepare for customer interviews, identify the right users and ask good questions. All interviews must have a research question, and interview questions should help answer that question. Avoid leading the conversation and summarize what you learn. Non-leading and non-biased questions encourage customers to share their honest thoughts and experiences, which can provide valuable insights to improve your product.

Learn more about customer interview questions.

User Research for Product Teams

User research helps gain insight into user needs and behaviors to inform product decisions.

Product teams can use user research to make product choices, such as if something is valuable, features, how users interact with the product, and how the product looks. User research validates if an idea is correct and finds out what users want that the product team may have missed.

Following these three simple steps, product teams can conduct user research to inform their decisions and build better products.

  1. Understand the objective and goal.
  2. Evaluate and choose a research method.
  3. Synthesize findings into user insights.

1. Understand the objective and goal.

To do user research well, product teams should begin by asking questions to determine the product’s goal and purpose. Questions like these can help:

  • What is the product trying to accomplish?
  • Who are the users, and what are their needs?
  • What problem are they trying to solve?

Product teams can use these questions to decide what their product should do and what they are aiming for and help them decide how to research with users and the information they get.

2. Evaluate and choose a research method.

When a product team is doing user research, it’s essential to think about the product’s particular needs and the team’s goals. It’s essential to pick the right user research method; each has its pros and cons, so the product team should consider their needs when choosing one.

Before jumping into the different methods of user research, there are two types of user research to be aware of:

  1. Qualitative user research is a way of discovering more about how users think, feel, and act. It involves asking users questions, doing surveys, and observing them while they use a product.
  2. Quantitative user research collects data and measures how users behave, what they like, and how they respond. Examples of quantitative research methods are surveys, analytics, and usability testing.

The most common user research methods include:

  1. User Interviews
  2. Surveys
  3. User Testing
  4. Analytics

1. User Interviews

Type: Qualitative


  • User interviews allow us to ask users questions without a set answer, allowing us to explore and learn more than what we can learn from surveys.
  • They can discover more about what users need and do, often discovering unexpected or important problems.
  • They help build relationships with users and get their opinion.


  • User interviews take more time and cost more money than other methods.
  • Finding people to represent a group of users can be challenging.
  • Product teams need more resources, like transcribing the interviews and studying the data, which can be tough if they need more resources.

2. Surveys

Type: Qualitative and Quantitative


  • Surveys can gather lots of information quickly and easily.
  • They are not expensive, and it’s easy to make them.
  • Surveys gather numbers that help us understand how people act and what they like.


  • Surveys can only ask certain questions, and the answers can be simple enough.
  • They are more difficult to analyze and interpret than open-ended methods such as interviews.
  • The responses can be biased if the survey questions need to be corrected.

3. User Testing

Type: Qualitative


  • Product teams can watch users use their product live and get useful feedback and ideas.
  • It can also allow us to watch how people act, which can be hard to get information about with surveys or talking to them.


  • User testing needs more time and money than other data collection methods, like finding people to test and running the tests.
  • Analyzing data from user testing is harder because it is usually in a qualitative form.
  • Getting reliable results can be hard when you only have a few samples.

4. Analytics

Type: Quantitative


  • Analytics can provide large amounts of data quickly and easily.
  • It can give us a broader view of how users behave and interact with the product.
  • It can validate qualitative data by providing quantitative evidence.


  • Analytics alone can’t tell us why users act the way they do.
  • Analytics can be biased if the data is not collected properly.
  • It can be difficult to interpret the data if you don’t have experience with analytics.

Choose a method, and product teams can collect user data and insights. It is important to remember that most user research is qualitative so that the team will interpret the data in the context of the user’s needs and motivations. Analytics is quantitive and can round out and validate qualitative feedback, but it should only be partially relied upon.

3. Synthesize findings into user insights.

Create user insights by analytically thinking and interpreting data regarding user needs and behaviors. After getting information and understanding from users, the product team can combine the data into a clear explanation of user needs. And user insights that can help with product choices.

As a product team, figure out where you will put the data so everyone can get to it. Many tools can help, like Figjam, Notion, OneNote, Excel, and more. Once you decide, make sure everyone knows.

How to Synthesize

  1. Look for patterns, recurring themes, and trends in the data.
  2. Organize and group these findings into categories.
  3. From there, you can conclude and identify user needs and motivations.
  4. From the identified needs and motivations, create actionable insights.


User research is a way of learning what users want and do. Product teams should first decide what they want their product to do and then pick the best user research method. Then they should look at the data they get from users and use it to help make product decisions.

After you understand how to do user research and find user insights, you should know what to do next. The next steps are to think of ideas that could work with those insights, make guesses (or assumptions) about what could work, and test those guesses to see if they work.

Considerations with UX Boot Camps

Are you considering changing into a UX-based career and you’re sure that is what you want to do? Whether you are just graduating from college or have been doing something different and ready for a change, keep reading.

For the past few years, the rise in popularity of UX boot camps has been hard to ignore. Learning educational systems have made it super easy for anyone to learn anything. As a person who loves to learn, this is exciting.

Being involved with the UX for over 17 years now, I have had countless people reaching out to me asking for advice on whether or not to take UX courses, what the UX industry is like, and what is expected of a UX or Product Designer role, types of skills needed, and transitioning into a UX role in general.

One of the most commonly asked questions from people seeking advice is “How effective are UX Bootcamps and should I consider taking one before applying for that first UX job?” Every time I tell them, it depends on your situation.

Below is a list of common reasons that may help you decide if you should or should not pursue a UX boot camp.

When You Should Consider a UX Boot Camp

  • You want to move into a UX-based career and are not sure what the next step is.
  • You want a solid background in the basic skills of UX and are not sure who to trust.
  • You need a curriculum to refer back to when starting off in your UX career.
  • You are struggling to pull together an effective UX Case Study portfolio for the upcoming application process.
  • Limited time prevents you from hunting down all the information needed to adequately learn about UX.
  • You don’t know what you don’t know about UX and want to be prepared for any surprises you may anticipate.
  • You have several thousand dollars saved for education (yes, boot camps are expensive).

When You Should Not Consider a UX Boot Camp

  • You have decided to move into a UX-based career and are confident about that next step.
  • You’re already in a design or tech role and may be familiar with what the UX role may entail so there are no surprises.
  • You love to learn and have the initiative to talk to others already in the industry and get their honest feedback about their UX roles and day-to-day activities and expectations.
  • You consider today’s curriculum already obsolete and looking for the freshest UX ideas and innovation.
  • You’re confident that building a portfolio is just doing a little research ahead of time.
  • You have free resources accessible to you to learn about UX.
  • Spending thousands of dollars doesn’t seem worth it to you for taking UX courses when you know what you need to learn already.


Taking a UX boot camp is a personal decision and should be made with care based on your situation.

Everyone is unique. We all have different needs when it comes to learning. Boot camps are there for people that do not feel 100% confident about what to learn. They help you be prepared for UX roles by filling in those educational gaps. In return, this boosts confidence. UX boot camps can also guide you on how to create effective portfolios when applying for your first UX job. UX bottom camps are also very expensive and the ROI is up to you and your personal situation.

If you have the time, the money, and the willpower to learn about UX without relying on a boot camp, that’s great! Connect with others that have already been working in the UX industry and that can pour into you and guide you, to boost your confidence to land your first UX job.

Active Listening in Customer Interviews

A few years ago, I was interviewing a customer to uncover some problems our product was having. I was super green when it came to interviews at that time. My customer was chatting about their experience when my mind wandered down the rabbit hole because of something interesting they mentioned. By the time I snapped back to reality, I had solved the problem and was ready to move on to the next thing. My customer was intensely staring at me and waiting for my next question. I mumbled a quick apology as my face turned red. Awkward.

The key to getting the answers and insights you need from your customers is active listening.

Active listening is a skill you can learn.

After that awkward customer interview, I’ve been doing customer interviews very differently. Over the years, I’ve learned some helpful tips and tricks along the way, and now I’m teaching others in the company how to do user interviews to get the insights needed to be successful.

The most crucial skill in customer interviews is active listening.

I’ve seen so many capable professionals chatting with customers and not paying attention to what they said. If you aren’t listening to your customer, they will know. Once they find out you are not paying attention, your interview will not be as productive and could end early.

What is active listening?

Active listening is a soft skill that focuses all your attention on your customer when they talk. It gets you outside your head and focuses on what the customer needs.

Active listening shows your customer:

  • You are interested in what they are saying.
  • You’re humble and hungry to learn from them.
  • Their time and information are valuable to you.

What are the positive benefits and importance of active listening?

  • It builds empathy for your customers.
  • It helps you see your product from a different perspective.
  • It builds trust with your customer.
  • It helps you uncover insights

Be an Expert at Active Listening

Here’s what you do when you’re interviewing a customer and how you can apply your skill of active listening during an interview.

Be open and friendly upfront.

Help the customer feel at ease by warmly introducing yourself and anyone else in the room during the interview. Show the customer you’re there to help and learn from them.

Relax your posture.

Sitting rigid in your chair reflects nervousness on your part, causing the customer to feel nervous. Sit casually in your chair, lean back, and put your hands on the table. You can also lean forward to show your customer you are paying attention.

Smile and nod your head.

Pay attention to what your customer is saying and smile and nod when appropriate. If active listening is absent, there is the risk of smiling and nodding during sensitive information, creating an awkward moment between you and your customer.

Maintain eye contact always.

Look your customer straight in the eyes, even when they look away. Keeping eye contact lets your customer know you care about what they say to you.

Mirror the customer’s facial expressions.

Reflect the facial expressions of the customer. Doing this displays that you are paying attention to what they are saying while building empathy. The customer may even feel more comfortable and willing to discuss more during the interview.

Pay attention customer’s body language.

When listening to your customer, be aware of what is not being said by watching their body language for conflicting messages. Sometimes, the customer may say something positive, but their body language may display rigidness instead.

Never interrupt your customer.

It may be tempting to interrupt your customer when they talk about something interesting. Do not stop their chatting until the sentence is complete.

Be okay with the uncomfortable silence.

It is okay to allow silence between when you ask the customer a question and when they answer. The customer needs space to think. While it may feel awkward waiting, the customer may not perceive it the same way you do.

Do not get distracted.

When interviewing, try your best not to fidget, look at your phone/watch, or anything else that may distract your customer. Maintain eye contact and show that you care about what they tell you.

Summarize back to your customer what you heard.

Every person interprets something differently from the stories we tell ourselves. Be sure to repeat back a summary of what you perceived from your customer and get affirmation before continuing to the next question. Doing this shows you were paying attention to what they were saying.


Active listening is undoubtedly a soft skill for successful customer interviews to build empathy with your customers. It is also necessary for other situations such as coaching, leadership, counseling, and even conversations with friends and family.

Active listening can be taught and refined over time. The way to improve this soft skill is to practice as much as possible. Catch yourself from interjecting something about yourself and focus on the other person talking. It is difficult not talking about ourselves and focus entirely on someone else for a while.

So, next time you’re chatting with one of your customers, listen to what they are saying. I promise you will learn something new while building empathy for their experience.

Creating Effective User Testing Questions

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If you have great questions to ask your users, you will get great answers to apply to your testing goal. If you work for a business that has limited resources, getting the best feedback is important the first round testing, thus saving money.

Understand the Goal

Every user test needs to have at least one goal to be effective. If you work for a company, ask the product owner, product manager, or leader what the goal for the test is. If you work by yourself, come up with a goal that will allow you to compare and measure the results.

Once you have the goal(s), understand what that goal means. For example, if your goal is to determine if there are any usability issues on an interface, you can use quantitative data to ask the user if a particular task was easy or difficult.

Think Like a User

The best advice for writing great questions is to put yourself in your user’s shoes. Pretend you are a user that takes things literally and have never seen your product nor have any idea how it works. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How did I get to this product?
  • What is this product for?
  • What am I supposed to do?
  • What will I get?

Knowing the answers to the questions will help you write an introduction for your user to get in the mindset of your test.


You were browsing your social media feed and see a title that looks interesting, so you click on it and come to our website.

Use a Prototype or Mockup as Reference

Always have access to a prototype or mockup when writing the questions for the user test. Having a visual of the interface in front of you will allow for you to see the path you want the user to take, and this will easily allow you to write the questions and the actual tasks you want them to perform.

Readily having the mockup or prototype available will also prevent you from accidentally skipping over an important step or feature of the interface when writing the questions.

Write Questions with Clarity

Here are some great quick tips to help you write clear questions.

Use Layman’s Terms

Please don’t use industry jargon when writing the questions! Your users will not understand the question clearly and will not provide good feedback.


No: What are your thoughts on the interstitial on the application?
Yes: What are your thoughts on the pop-up with the discount information?

One Question at a Time

Keep the question focused to one thing. Do not pack in several things into a single question as this gets too difficult for the user.


No: What is your opinion on how the search works and the way the results are given to you?
Yes: What is your opinion on how the search works?

Unbiased Feedback

Write questions in a way so you won’t get biased feedback from your users. Write your question as neutral as possible.


Wrong: Was it hard to find the search box on the site?
Right: How easy or difficult was it to find the search bar on the site?

Get the Responses You Need

When writing your questions, you have two types of feedback based on the types of questions you write:

1.) Quantitative (can be easily measured)
2.) Qualitative (influenced by feelings or emotions)

To achieve the user testing goal ultimately, it is ideal to have a healthy mix of both quantitative and qualitative feedback from your users.

Quantitative Questions

Use the following types of systems to write your questions for easy to measure results from your users.

  • Rating Scale (levels of difficulty, clarity)
  • Yes/No (completion of task)
  • Multiple Choice (to prevent a wide range of answers)

Qualitative Questions

Qualitative questions are best if you ask for the user to talk out loud what they are thinking or to write their answer and talk out loud as they do. Your best feedback will come because the user gets to speak their mind and express areas on your prototype that may be confusing or cause friction.


  • Find a class that is convenient for you. Talk out loud as you demonstrate this.
  • Is there any other way you would find a class on this page?
  • Was there anything that seemed confusing or difficult while you were searching for a class? Please explain out loud as you type your answer.
  • What frustrated you most about this site?

Avoid User Test Frustration and Issues

If you have ever conducted a user test and when going over the results find that there was confusion on the instructions or questions, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your user wander away from the page or area you want feedback on.

Here are some helpful tips to keep your users on track and get the results you need.

This is Just a Test

Sometimes you have to let your users know that your prototype or mockup isn’t functional yet. Doing so will keep them from asking questions about links that don’t work or getting frustrated when they can’t move further along on your interface.

Example Statement

What you will be testing is a prototype, an idea where not everything is 100% functional or clickable, so as you explore you may find things that don’t work yet.

Unexpected Results from Free Reign Testers

If you give your users free reign to click around on your prototype (if it is functional), there is the possibility that your user may move on to the next question while on the page you did not intend to test. It is important to communicate with your user to return to the specific page you want them to be when moving on to the next question by simply adding a statement (and link if you really want to be nice) to the beginning of your next question.


Be sure you are on the home page before continuing to the next question.

Allow the User to Vent

Sometimes, you can really get awesome feedback from allowing your user to vent, or tell you what frustrated them the most on your interface. The best way to do this is to allow them to type in their answer rather than talk out loud. The user will be more intentional about what they write and provide insightful feedback.


What frustrated you most about this site (remember it’s a prototype, so items may not be clickable)?

Summing Up

To get the best possible results from user testing, clear, concise, easy to understand questions are essential to get the feedback you want to achieve your goal. Being able to think like your user is a huge plus when writing effective questions.

Carefully crafted qualitative and quantitative user test questions are the framework for clear feedback responses that can help you see if you achieved your user testing goal or not.

Most importantly, being able to avoid user frustration while taking the test will result in honest, helpful, and effective feedback that you can bring back to your business unit, stakeholders, leaders, or product owners.