What design thinking can teach us about communicating effectively

Have you ever found yourself in a meeting and on the receiving end of a long diatribe or winding story that has absolutely nothing to do with you, the purpose of the meeting, or the project at hand? It’s a kind of ineffectual communication that almost never influences change, other than the change of “I need to get out of this situation asap”.

Cue design thinking.

Design thinking encourages us to be more intentional and experimental about the way we approach problem-solving, product development, and design. It’s also a process that can also allow us to dramatically improve the effectiveness of our communication and avoid being that person in those meetings.

In order for us to better ‘land’ a message, idea, or piece of feedback, we can pause to consider these four elements that are common parlance (great word) in design thinking circles:

  1. The needs and emotions of those we’re communicating with
    • Ask yourself: who’s it for? Who is on the other end of this communication? What are they motivated by? What are their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and incentives? What are their fears and doubts?
  2. The specific challenge at hand and what success looks like
    • Ask yourself: What’s it for? What’s the change you’re seeking to make? How are you hoping you’ll make them feel?
  3. All of the possible ways to solve this problem
    • Brainstorm 13 different ways to communicate this problem/challenge. What stories, metaphors, and analogies do you have to articulate and communicate this change that will resonate with the identified audience? What facts and figures might you leverage?
  4. Decide and experiment
    • Ask yourself: from the brainstorm which 1-2 of these stories, metaphors, and analogies is most likely to address your answers to steps #1 and #2? Pick one and go.

The goal of really effective communication isn’t to share every single thing you know about any given topic. The goal is to shift the energy in the room. To open a door and turn on a light. We do this through human stories, metaphors, and analogies that match the needs and emotions of those we’re communicating with.

It’s all quite meta really. You probably wouldn’t have made it to this sentence had you not resonated with something from the first paragraph of this post.