Objective facts, not subjective comments

Speak the truth – don’t cloud your decisions

David Standen 

One of the most important aspects of design and product development is to be able to remove as much subjectivity from the room as possible. By doing so we can speak the truth and make better decisions as a result.

At times we can’t help but to share our own bias because ‘you know you’re right, I’ve done it before’ – this is known as confirmation bias, something based on previous experiences or it was something that ‘was read in a book, so it must be right’.

Example of confirmation bias

Not seeking out objective facts.

Interpreting information to support your existing belief.

Only remembering details that uphold your belief.

Ignoring information that challenges your belief.

I’m sure at some point we’ve all faced the above, but we need to try incredibly hard to be conscious of these traps. There are times when we need to step back, take a breath and slow down in order to think objectively and work pragmatically towards the right outcome.

“It’s easy to fall into a subjective state of mind when things aren’t going according to plan”

I’ve listed several areas that represent what it is to be subjective and what it is to be objective to help identify the differences

Subjective

Personal preference – Personal bias
Your taste in art is a personal preference

Feelings – Gut feelings
Personal judgment or own experience is a subjective feeling

Opinions – No proof or evidence
Whether it is ugly or not is a purely subjective opinion

Objective

Hard facts – Find a source of truth 
•  Competitor benchmarking 
•  Customer pain-points 

Feedback – Find quantitative and qualitative feedback
•  User testing
•  Focus groups

Evidence – Use data to articulate experience problems 
•  Empathy maps and customer journeys
•  Using data as evidence

Consequences of subjectivity in design

Risks of making decisions based on subjective assumptions is the quality and accuracy of the outcomes. 

  1. You don’t know if the changes you are recommending are going to improve performance
  2. You cannot justify the tasks you are proposing to implement
  3. You cannot determine what level of performance you will get from the updated tasks

It’s especially easy to fall into a subjective state of mind when things aren’t going according to plan. Organizations and teams find themselves in a constant state of review: if performance doesn’t improve then we need to review again, going around in circles for a very long time.

It takes a great deal of skill to encourage objectivity in individuals and groups. We need to remind ourselves that it’s part of human nature in the workplace to influence others for either behavioural confirmation or social influence. But there are some great leadership techniques out there to keep people thinking objectively and ways to avoid the consequences of subjectivity.

Remaining objective when you’re emotionally invested 

We all need to make difficult decisions, as an entrepreneur or an employee but making the right decision is hard especially when you’re so close to the work and you have other influencing factors. Here are some tips that have helped me remain objective when making tough decisions when emotionally invested:

Self-awareness
Be aware of your biases – Try to avoid letting your own assumptions become an influencing factor. Separate the emotion from the situation and carefully consider the facts and ask questions to gain further understanding.

Get feedback
Letting people know that you’re interested in hearing how their views differ will help you to respond objectively and improve. I’ve found that adding 3 pros and 3 cons help to think through positives and negatives and give people opportunities to input.

Cater to the individual
One person might perform well in a high-pressure situations, while another could thrive in a quieter environment where they can work at their own pace. Find ways to best support and coach individuals in your team to bring out their best.

I hope you’ve found this useful and if you’d like to discuss how I am applying these tips in the workplace please reach out.

© 2020 David Standen