reflection improves communication


If you’re not reflecting on your product practices, then you’re going to have a hard time improving them. Today I reflect some more on communication.

When you’re the communicator, you have the power to establish a clear frame of reference for your audience in order to minimize the possibility of misunderstanding, accurately convey research insights, and keep discussions on track.

the longer version

As with anything else, effective communication requires reflecting on communications that do not go as intended, do not go well, as well as on those that do go well. When something works you want to understand why and try to replicate it. When something doesn’t work, you want to at least theorize why not and try to fix it next time.

Today I was presenting some prelim research insights from an interview study to a team of internal stakeholders. I put a quote up on the screen, and shortly after I did, one of the stakeholders raised a hand and asked a question about the implications of the quote for our product development initiatives.

The stakeholder’s question generalized the quote because I did not establish a strong enough frame of reference for them. The quote was something like this:

If I have a friend who hates music, then I’m looking for songs that speak directly to their life and experiences to try and get them interested.


The stakeholder asked why music has to speak directly to someone’s life and experience in order for them to be interested in it, but that’s not what the interviewee is saying.

The interviewee is talking about a specific “friend [or friends] who hate[s] music” and a tactic they have used to try and get these friends interested in it. Finding music that speaks directly to someone’s life or experiences is not the only (or best!) way to get someone interested in it, but that conclusion was implicit in the stakeholder’s question.

Why does this matter?

The stakeholder adopted a critical stance toward the data and I want stakeholders, during presentations like this one especially, to remain open to possibilities, curious, and eager to question their own perspectives and assumptions in favor of participants.

Moreover, that critical stance was rooted in a misinterpretation that could have been avoided if I’d done a better job of framing it up when I presented it. I could have acknowledged its specificity as I shared it, explaining that “the participant is not making a general statement about what makes music interesting to all listeners, they are describing one tactic that they deploy in order to get reluctant listeners to start listening to and enjoying music.”

Finally, the critical stance resulted in a loss of the bigger picture. The main takeaway from this section of the presentation should have focused on the qualities that make music relevant to different listeners. One size does not fit all. Reflection of one’s life and experiences is one possible answer, but it’s not necessarily the best/most compelling answer and yet it still received the bulk of our time and attention in this section of the presentation.

If I hadn’t taken a few minutes after the meeting to reflect on it, then I’d be no better positioned the next time a scenario like this presents itself.

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