How Confidence Breeds Better Humans & Researchers
Monday July 22, 2019
At Connected, we believe that continuous discovery is the foundation for building better products. In the “Connecting With Research” series, our design research team reflects on what is important when conducting research, and how we learn from the people who our products are built for. Investigating and establishing industry best practices, each post dives deep into a different topic related to building a human-centred research practice. This post explores the importance of confidence in your professional and personal life.
I can’t count the number of times I was told as a young girl that having an opinion isn’t right and, even more so, to keep my opinion to myself. I would hear people tell me I’m too bossy or that I’m trying to be dominant. Today, as a woman, I see how those statements have hurt my career.
I recently attended Strive, a UX Conference in Toronto where Shruti Kataria, Research Manager at AirBnb gave a keynote focused on questioning everything I’ve heard in the past: “Do we even matter if we don’t have an opinion?” It reminded me how important confidence is in my multi-faceted role: as a professional, a researcher, and a mentor. Strive was a provocation for me to reflect on my past and truly think about the common problem many of us in the research industry struggle with: what matters most?
We need to remind ourselves that displaying leadership skills isn’t a detriment and that we’re allowed to voice our opinion – in fact, we’re encouraged to share. As a researcher, I feel that it is my responsibility to represent the stories I hear from research participants and show the value I bring with my thinking and work. As a mentor for young people, I emphasize that they should not shy away from being confident and speaking their minds. What links all these cases is confidence or lack thereof.
I know I’m not alone. Shruti’s talk was a trigger that made me wonder what confidence really means in today’s world. I’ve been seeing the need to adjust our demeanours so to not be seen as egotistical or, alternatively, being too shy. We tend to struggle with both to find the right balance.
You want to speak up, but you don’t want to make it seem like you’re imposing upon anyone or anything. For me, that harmony has a different makeup which comes with different scenarios: be it a researcher, a mentor, a project lead, a woman, etc. And I believe we all have different recipes that work in individual cases.
As Shruti said: “There are layers to our identity that keep us from sharing our opinions.” Uncovering those individual layers, unlearning how we operate within them, and learning how to give more space to our opinions is what brings us closer to being confident.
As a researcher, it’s a bit daunting to think about how much responsibility rests upon you. Every time you represent each person who participates in your research, you make a meaningful change and can lead the way to innovation and inclusion. Those voices empower me and make me want to be better and do more.
Borrowing a quote from Shruti’s presentation, “Influencing a change isn’t only about sourcing the information, it’s about using the information to take a stand that you’re willing to see through as a leader.” Researchers have unique advantages to impact change and stand strong in the spirit of confidently sharing our opinions.
My job as a researcher demands more of me because of the nature of my role. I triangulate different sources of data, organize information against humans’ inner biases, or shed light to uncomfortable truths.
My researcher blood consists of courage and persistence. It shows in various ways: every time I speak the truth, I advocate for the users, or I share a story from an ethnographic interview that made me shiver or even cry. If I can’t be confident in myself, I need to at least be confident for those who aren’t in the room.
Developing Confidence Matters
There’s an ongoing theme of struggling with confidence that can be found in pop culture. A testimonial to showing how little confidence people can have, even though they seem like they’re powerful, was portrayed in one of the newest episodes of the popular dystopian show, ‘Black Mirror.’
Reflecting on Season 5, Episode 3 titled, ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’, the episode follows Ashley O, a pop singer who is creatively restricted by her management team. “It’s really important for people to feel like they’re in control of their own destiny, and that means having the confidence to be who you want to be.” says Ashley O. We are not born with that confidence; it is acquired over time.
I want to be a researcher who confidently leads with heart; one that doesn’t shy away from the truth and difficult conversations; one that believes people’s feelings matter. A quote from the beautiful movie The Help also echoes in my head as I reflect on this topic; the nanny whispers “You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important” to the child sitting on her lap, holding her small hand, and looking at her face. The sentence hits so close to the heart: confidence comes with action and it needs to be nurtured early on. It applies to all of us.
Shruti said that “Our jobs today demand more of us than just providing insights on command.” For me, it means that I’m at a difficult intersection of business needs and user needs. I’m challenged by clients and I’m haunted by difficult stories I’ve heard from people I’ve met in my research. But in the meantime, I hear echoes of the comments I was surrounded by as a young girl. It takes a lot of courage and resilience from me to change my living patterns and habits.
I want to stand up for those who aren’t in the room; I want to make sure that their voices are represented. I want to work on my confidence and be purposeful about becoming a self-aware and charismatic human being. I want to prevent those who are now young from making the mistakes I’ve made in the past. I want to have no fear of sharing my opinions and grow into a thoughtful leader. In all this, it’s even more important to wear confidence like a badge of honour and have your heart on your sleeve. If we don’t care, who else will? To finish up with Shruti’s opening words: “what do you think?”