If you’ve spent any time around toddlers, you know that their favorite words are “no” and “why.” It can be maddening. But they are really just trying to assert themselves and make sense of the world. And user experience professionals need to learn how to channel their inner toddlers in order to make their work most effective.

What does your inner toddler look like?You see, we spend a lot of our time at work finding ways to say “no” and ask “why” time and time again until we get the right information. We get the urge to say “NO!” when someone asks us to “put this welcome letter from the CEO on the home page.” But, as adults, it is not appropriate to outright say “no” to your boss or colleagues – or even to those who work for you. So we turn to asking “why” as a means to get to “no.”

Ways to Say No

I cannot begin to count the number of times I say “no” every day without actually saying “no.” And most of the time, “no” is not the full answer. Often it’s “no, but….” To be fair, your clients or the people in your organization probably don’t really understand what makes good web content or the ramifications for adding a new feature to your website . So you’ve got to ask questions and educate them.

Ask a Question

Turning the tables and asking a version of “why?” is one way to avoid saying “no” directly. Ask for the reason behind the request. Ask for data to support why your customers want this information. Keep asking questions until you get to the real issue at hand. Sometimes you can get to “no” without ever having to say the word. Other times you can find a better way to fulfill the request (if it is truly a need).

Educate

You are the expert on web content or usability. Don’t be an order taker. The person requesting additional content or features is an expert on something else (you can hope!). Use the request as an opportunity to explain what makes good content or what makes something usable. Not in a condescending way, but in a way that provides enlightenment. Help others get their a-ha moment when the light turns on. This will make things easier for both of you in the long term.

Offer an Alternative

If you ask questions and can see some value to what the real request is – or you just can’t talk them out of it completely – offer a less obtrusive way to fulfill the request. The welcome letter? Maybe there is a new CEO and it is important that your customers know his plans for your organization. A welcome letter was just the default method of doing this because he and his assistant didn’t know any other way. Brainstorm ideas for getting this message to the customers in a way that is meaningful and useful.

Put it on the Wish List

Sometimes you just have to defer things (and hope they go away). There are times when the idea is a good one but you can’t fit it on your to-do list right now. Other times, you can use prioritization as justification for putting a request off. But really put it on a list – the list must be real. Revisit it periodically – quarterly is probably a good interval. Some items will stay low on the list and never see the light of day, but you’ll have justification because other things are higher priority.

Refer to the Strategy

Which leads to the best way to say no: “That does not align with our strategy.” Pull out the strategy statement (you have one, right?) and explain how this letter does not support what you are trying to achieve with the website. If you don’t have a strategy, you’ll have a much harder time saying “no.”

These are just some of the ways you can stop the madness of too much stuff on your website. As you move toward publishing things that your customers need, you’ll find yourself saying “no” less often.

Learning to say “no” was one of the most important things I’ve learned in the last few years. It isn’t always easy, but it makes life easier in the end.

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