97 UX Things

Priyama Barua - Boost Your Emotional Intelligence to Move From Good to Great UX

August 31, 2021 Priyama Barua & Dan Berlin Season 1 Episode 13
97 UX Things
Priyama Barua - Boost Your Emotional Intelligence to Move From Good to Great UX
Show Notes Transcript

Priyama Barua discusses how emotional intelligence can help a practitioners in their UX careers. 

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. Dan Berlin here your book editor and host. I'm joined this week by Priyama Barua who wrote the chapter "Boost Your Emotional Intelligence to Move From Good to Great UX." Welcome, Priyama.

Priyama Barua:

Hi, and thank you for having me.

Dan Berlin:

Thanks for joining me. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Priyama Barua:

Yeah, sure, happy to. I work as a VP of Experience Strategy at a company called Merge, based out of Boston. Merge is an integrated marketing agency. Ehh, part marketing agency, part digital transformation agency. As an experience strategist, what I do is I help our clients use a design led approach to innovation. What that really means is that we're looking at problems, really large scale problems and finding solutions to them, that help the company become more future oriented and informs the strategy of their company.

Dan Berlin:

Gotcha. And how are you going about doing that?

Priyama Barua:

It's multi fold. So experience strategy utilizes an understanding of what value people see in a product or service, or an organization. By creating value, we are more likely to have that company be relevant in the future. We do a deep understanding of people's experience, or really design research and following the design thinking process. But the outcome is applied in different ways to what we may traditionally think of as in UX. Mostly, because it's omni channel. So we're not just looking at digital interfaces, we're looking at everything we're looking at that text message that you get, that piece of paper someone hands to you.

Dan Berlin:

The entire experience.

Priyama Barua:

The entire experience. Using a service design mindset, really.

Dan Berlin:

Awesome. That's great. Thanks for that additional information. Can you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory? How did you find UX? And how did you wind up where you are today?

Priyama Barua:

Yeah. I think my path to UX, I would call it a series of fortunate events that happened to me. And me just being receptive to those events and following the direction that I was given. From a school friend saying "Hey, have you heard of this thing called design, you may be great at it", to realizing I'm not actually good at graphic design and better at strategy and making that shift, to meeting the person who led me on the path that I am on right now. So just listening to all of that, and following my path. So my beginnings was in graphic design as I mentioned, started to make brands, slowly evolved to making digital interfaces, and then moved here to the US, where I met Amy Cueva, now Heymans, who was the co founder of Mad*Pow where I worked previously. She introduced me to this thing called experience strategy that exists. The first time I heard her talk, I realized there are so many applications of the thing I already do. And I was smitten, I was like, This is my path. I just have to follow it.

Dan Berlin:

That's great. That's great. How about that transition from design to strategy? How did you how did you make that?

Priyama Barua:

So I'm one of those people who's been trained on it. So my first master's was in design management. There, I did learn a lot of how to apply design thinking processes to business problems. I learned a lot about business in itself. So being able to put on that hat while thinking about problems was very helpful to me. Moreso that I decided to do another master's and get an MBA because I was realizing more and more that the impact that I'm having on organizations is manifesting in their operational changes. So I went and got a master's in operations. So classically trained, in a sense. Then I think I picked up a lot on the job. I worked with Mad*Pow and worked with you for about five years. There I worked with a lot of Fortune 500 companies that were looking for this kind of work, looking to see how they can shift the experiences and compete on the basis of experience. I started to gain industry expertise, by working a lot in health care by working a lot in health insurance. And secondarily, also finance. I realized that having a good knowledge of these highly regulated environments really helped me to become a better strategist.

Dan Berlin:

Yep, I get that. Having that domain expertise. It's interesting to hear you say about going to get an MBA, and that helping with the strategy side of things. This is something that has come up a lot recently is the tying the interface itself to the business. These are tied, the user interface is tied to the user experience to the business. When we change our user interface, we have to keep the business in mind as well as the customer. So it's interesting to hear you were in design first, then got your MBA.

Priyama Barua:

Yeah, I've been thinking this thing lately, and I think others are too, that a lot of the innovation that we could have done is kind of being done. Right now, all the innovation that I see is "How do I take inspiration from this other industry and apply it to mine?" I see a lot of UX is thinking that way, but the other thing I'm thinking is that I think a lot of innovation now lies in operations. So if you look at Amazon, someone tells me the example of Amazon almost everyday. "We want to be like Amazon." When you see what Amazon has innovated upon, it is not their interface. It's not necessarily their UX, it manifests in the UX, but it is really their operations and behind the scenes, ability to track in real time where your packages, the technical and human manpower that goes into it, that has brought about that UX. So if we want to affect change in such large scale, and to really move away from status quo, we have to think deeply about how we partner with people that do that behind the scenes innovation.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. super interesting, because you mention Amazon and the innovation that they're doing today in shipping, in that back end, the technology side of that. It's the same conversation from the 80s when Walmart was doing cross docking and process innovation, it sounds so familiar as we're having the same conversation. Its been 40 years later, it's interesting.

Priyama Barua:

It's also as experienced strategists, we come head to head with culture of organizations, we come head to head with people within larger organizations that are trying to make these changes that are trying to move the needle, but are up against so many factors that prevent them from doing so. Right.

Dan Berlin:

Right. Corporate factors I presume.

Priyama Barua:

Yes, corporat factors, leadership, no one h ving the ability to make a d cision, everyone's waiting round for a decision to be made. To contrast that, I actually had a chance. I am going to sound like an Amazon fan. For ive me here. Last year, I was wo king with one of our clients n health insurance. And at that ime, we were looking to create a partnership where during C VID, our client would be able o ship food to their members hat were vulnerable, that wer

Dan Berlin:

Two very different corporate cultures interacting old, that couldn't go out to g ocery stores. There was a lot to be done there. So we had this idea that what if we partnere with Amazon, so they can set hese people up with Amazon Fres , which also accepts EBT stam s, and get food in their homes. nd I was working as a lia son between Amazon and ou client. And watching all of t is unfold, watching how long it ook our client to reach a si ple decision, and watching the A azon side of this fold out that there was so much power that was just granted to people to ta e ownership and make decisions nd just do the thing. It w s just very interesting to watch that dynamic. and not meshing well, it sounds ike perhaps.

Priyama Barua:

Yes.

Dan Berlin:

Thank you for all of that really interesting stuff. The transition from design to experience strategy and the world surrounding that. So thanks for that. Your chapter, "Boost Your Emotional Intelligence to Move From Good to Great UX". Can you tell us about that please?

Priyama Barua:

Yeah, absolutely. Maybe I'll start with telling you about why I wrote it. And why that spoke to me. I grew very rapidly in the five years that I worked here in the US. I moved here seven years ago, and two of those years I was getting my first master's. And I essentially started from the beginning. I was running my own company back in India, and I was teaching at an institute and I moved here and I started up again, as an intern. So it was a lot of learning and re learning for me. And as I was growing, I realized I had missed an education of how you work in large teams, in organizations, how you work in multi disciplinary environments, just because I had my own firm.

Dan Berlin:

Right.

Priyama Barua:

I started observing my own interactions with other people and what I'm good at, and what I'm not good at. And I have to be forgiving of myself also, that I was getting accustomed to a new culture, a new way of working, and everyone was very supportive, but I realized that there were many instances where I could have done something or said something differently. Compounded by the fact that I was a foreigner, I AM a foreigner. I'm a brown person in a very, very white industry. I didn't always get the good end of the stick in interactions. I had to be the bigger person in a lot of situations. So I started thinking about emotional intelligence, I started reading about it, I started observing myself more closely, I started talking to my manager and my mentor about it. And seeing what do I do well. I'm gonna borrow all of this terminology from Daniel Goldman, who's a leading expert on this topic. He wrote in this HBR article that there are four domains of emotional intelligence. They are self awareness, the ability to manage your own emotional self awareness. Secondly, there is self management. How do you react in a multitude of situations. Thirdly, there's social awareness. How well can you empathize with others, how well are you attuned to organizations and the dynamics within it. And lastly, relationship management, so the ability to influence other people, positively, the ability to coach and mentor others, to work in a team effectively to inspire others. And lastly, one which is very overlooked in emotional intelligence, is conflict management. Knowing when a conflict is needed, and manage it appropriately. So my chapter is about applying these competencies very strongly in design and why this is more important today than it was ever before. As you know, we've transitioned from sitting in front of a computer, doing our designs, taking it to someone, having them move everything around, destroying your designs and launching it, to now with more democratized process, we workshop with three people, we get stakeholder input at different points. Like I talked about earlier, if you're really trying to move the needle of something, we're working with those operational people to figure out how is it going to work on their end. There are so many conversations, there are so many voices that we come up against that don't believe in what we are doing that we have to convince. As you continue to grow, there becomes an aspect of mentoring others, an aspect of coaching others, more and more people want to get into UX. Client management, being able to talk to them in a way that takes in their perspective, but also prevents them from making a very big mistake. All of that has become more important than ever more before. I think that, to a large extent, a lot of people have a narrow understanding of what is emotional intelligence. A lot of people think it means be a nice guy, be a nice person, getting along with everyone. It's really not. It is part of it, it is the ability to manage conversations and interactions in a way that even if someone else is clearly not in control of their emotions, being the voice of reason. But it is, like I said, the ability to think about, "Oh, I want to do this thing, maybe I need to go talk to this other person," finding those connections that exist when previously unseen. And also, like I said earlier, the conflicts, to be able to create friction when necessary. And do it in a manner that people appreciate that you're keeping a lookout for the best outcomes, and not just creating friction for the sake of friction.

Dan Berlin:

Thanks for that. That's a great overview of emotional intelligence. Really interesting. And really important to UX. As you mentioned, we are designing for people, and we have to know those people and empathize with those people. Emotional intelligence is a huge part of that. And the other interesting thing that you described how EI is defined, it's interesting how the progression goes from the self, to the team, to the client, as you progress from those critiques to interacting with others.

Priyama Barua:

Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of the work that I've been doing recently also is that we're now working in teams with the client as well as least as a consultant, that's what I'm seeing that it's no longer expert led, it's participatory. As more clients get educated in design, they will have a say they want to be involved. It's like,"teach me how to fish." They want to do more on that. So how do you kind of manage that? "Okay, you're my client, but you're also a team member, and I'm guiding you here." So it's getting more complex.

Dan Berlin:

Along those lines, you mentioned the friction that's necessary. How do you deal with that? What are some tips you have for folks in terms of creating the necessary friction to move things forward, but also managing that with folks?

Priyama Barua:

Yeah. This is obviously my personal approach. I am a soft spoken introverted person, but I am a very strong personality in terms of the opinions that I have on things. So when it comes to emotional intelligence, I have to remind myself that I need to scale back my personality at some times. Hold back. Again, not want to approach this conversation with "We need to do this." But rather ask questions and say, "why are we doing it this way? Is there a better way?" Let the group come up with the idea. The one thing I do pride myself on is being an excellent listener. Most of the time, I feel like I don't even come up with recommendations in the strategy. It's the people that are around me it's the clients it's the team. I'm literally just putting it together in a coherent way.

Dan Berlin:

Asking the right questions and actively listening and finding the patterns and threads amongst what you're hearing.

Priyama Barua:

Yes, being a good design researcher.

Dan Berlin:

It's interesting that you say that, the other note I took here was about emotional intelligence for UX research, and how EI is needed for that. Can you tell us a little bit about that? You know, what about EI is so important to UXR.

Priyama Barua:

Yeah it's a personal story here, maybe not the entire audience will relate with this. But, I think it was four years ago, I was interviewing someone, I was still very fresh in interviewing, I was still learning a lot. The person on the other end of the line, when they would hear my accent, they thought I'm calling from a call center in India. And a lot of participants, their demeanor would change, the level of respect, the mutual respect is diminished. So this person, I got a feeling was going down this route, and I am so unhappy about the way I reacted to that situation. I let her take me down that route of feeling bad about myself, or feeling angry that she felt that way. And I know other researchers who may have faced similar things, not necessarily being a person of color, or having an accent, but for different reasons. That a participant is just not behaving in a rational manner, for whatever reason that may be. So keeping our composure, reminding ourselves that we are here to do research, you're not taking it personally. In some places, even controlling the situations, it's not okay for you to behave that way with me disrespectfully.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, it's that self awareness and interaction with others awareness that one needs. Thank you for sharing that story. I really had no idea about that. I hate to say self control, but that's part of it. I'm a researcher, I'm gathering data, I only have one hour with this participant. There's an element of self control there. What else? What else about the chapter were you hoping to convey today?

Priyama Barua:

There's something in there about, what do I do if I want to work on this? So I think the best advice I can give is start to read more about it to broaden an understanding of what emotional intelligence is. I think the main problem that most people have with this is the emotional self awareness and self control. I know I had it, I still do. It's a constant work in progress. It's very interesting. Once I started reading more about it, I truly understood it. When I truly understood it, I found that I could change it. I started reading a book, both Daniel Goldman's work and another book called "Go suck a lemon," by Michael Cornwall, in which I understood that our human brain is still wired to the time when we were cavemen, when we had a physical threat on our lives at all times. So if you heard a twig snap, or you heard a whisper, your body would go into a hyper awareness mode, and your flight or fright reactions kind of kick in. What I read is that we've evolved into people that no longer live in that environment, but our brain hasn't evolved beyond it. So when we have an interaction with someone being plain rude with us, if we are not attuned to our emotional intelligence, our brain thinks it's a mortal threat on our lives. And it just reacts. I started reading about the amygdala is the emotional center and kind of takes over the rational center. So for me just realizing that it's my brain doing this and I have the control if I talk to myself, and then I started learning about self talk and learning about how situations don't control me I control the situation. I still get mad, I still get unreasonably irrational, but not reacting in a way that I would regret later is what's key here.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. A big part of it sounds to be self critique, self criticism, and self introspection. Maybe even once you have the emotional intelligence enough to do so, getting critique from others.

Priyama Barua:

Interestingly, a growth mindset is actually one of those competencies of emotional intelligence. Which was a surprise to me as I started learning more about it. It's almost like a precursor you want to change. That's why you start this journey.

Dan Berlin:

Right. Great. So Priyama, this has been wonderful to hear about your chapter. Can you tell us a tip for UXers, whether they are entering the field or have been in the field for a while? Do you have a career tip for folks?

Priyama Barua:

Can it be a motivational tip?

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Whatever you'd like.

Priyama Barua:

So I've been hiring lately. And in my company, having a diverse set of people working with us is important to us, and it's important to me personally. I have been surprised by how few people of color I found in my field. I am looking, I'm really looking. I feel that my experiences are definitely experiences that other people have had in the field of design. I know I've listened to many conferences, and people talking about their personal experiences. So my piece of advice would be to other people of color, like me, if you're a foreigner trying to get a visa, you'll find the place that will appreciate you, don't stay in an environment that doesn't. You do not have to put up with anything that makes you feel less about yourself. And talking about emotional intelligence, it's important to also speak up when you're having negative interactions. There is so much space in the design world for people of color. I just hope more and more people stick with it and don't feel deflated when you're not able to find opportunities. Because there's a lot of people like me who are looking for you.

Dan Berlin:

Yep, absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. And I have heard that time and time again that people of color are hard to find in the design world.

Priyama Barua:

Yeah.

Dan Berlin:

So Priyama, thank you so much for joining me today. Again, Priyama's chapter is "Boost Your Emotional Intelligence to Move From Good to Great UX". Thanks for joining me Priyama.

Priyama Barua:

Thank you.

Dan Berlin:

And this has been the 97 Ux Things podcast, Dan Berlin, your host here. Thanks for listening. You've been listening to the 97 UX things podcast, a companion to the book 97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know published by O'Reilly and available at your local bookshop. All book royalties go to UX nonprofits, as well any funds raised by this podcast. The theme music is Moisturize the Situation by Consider the Source, Joshua Berlin is the podcast transcript editor, and I'm your host and book editor Dan Berlin. Please remember to find the needs in your community and fill them with your best work. Thanks for listening.