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Remote Workshop on Problem Space Research with Indi Young at NYC UXPA

Wall with a projected screen of GoToMeeting with 3 screens - 1 with Indi Young, 2 with room attendees, 3 with slides

This past Saturday I had a pleasure to attend a workshop by Indi Young focused on Problem Space Research during a monthly NYC UXPA event at a space hosted by Tigerspike.

The workshop had both lecture and interactive parts which I really liked as it allowed us not just to listen to the speaker, but also to ask her questions, participate in discussions and doing several exercises. Since Indi Young is based in California, the workshop was done remotely via GoToMeeting – as shown on the photo above. It’s not the best photo that I took as I was sitting in front and to the side of the projected area.

Doing user research is one of my favorite parts of user experience strategy, so I signed up for the workshop. Indi explained that many organizations focus on a solution rather than a problem and make assumptions. It reminds me of Product Management course (that I took last year) and various types of information about Product Management (that I read online) emphasizing importance of understanding a problem before solving it. So I noticed some overlap between User Experience and Product Management.

Focusing on the problem has benefits because you focus on user’s needs by better understanding them and developing user stories and personas that will help you make connections and find solutions instead of making assumptions. You test solutions by doing usability, A/B testing, user interviews, and so on. In order to understand someone’s problem, you need to be empathetic and try to listen to them.

Indi explained that there are different types of empathy – emotional and cognitive. She meant emotional empathy by supporting someone during an emotional process while cognitive empathy means understanding what went through someone’s mind and supporting them in achieving their purpose. You develop empathy by listening to someone and applying it by walking in their shoes. Indi also mentioned that words are open to interpretation and you would need to dig deeper to get more clarity of meaning – it is what active listening is.

After explaining about active listening, Indi demonstrated an example of it by asking a volunteer to have her listen to their story for no more than five minutes. As we watched Indi’s example, we noticed how the conversation unfolded with more details as in peeling an onion and gave us more insight into what the volunteer was thinking. Indi said that deep listening is not following an agenda or asking survey questions, but just going with flow and asking questions when needed. When the demonstration was done, we did several exercises by picking a partner to take turns to practice listening to each other. By the end of the workshop, Indi explained how to collect and analyze data.

Active listening is important not just during user research, but also anytime when you are trying to listen to anyone. It reminds me of a quote by Stephen Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” You need to try to understand a person first before deciding whether or how to respond or offer a solution.

I really enjoyed the workshop and liked the combination of listening to a presentation, studying slides, and doing hands on activities. If you want to learn more about cognitive empathy and active listening, Indi Young would be a good person to ask. She also blogs about this topic.

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