User research interviews and coaching conversations

Written by: Dan Goodwin On: 15 Apr 2016 In: Leadership, User experience

A couple of months ago, I attended Meri Williams’s excellent “Be a brilliant people developer” workshop with White October Events. I’d thoroughly recommend it if you’re starting out on any kind of people leading / managing / coaching / mentoring journey.

One of the things that we spent quite a lot of time on was coaching and how to conduct a useful coaching conversation. I won’t duplicate the content of the workshop here: I wouldn’t do it justice, you should go on the workshop. But I noticed something that I ended up chatting to White October’s Holly Davis about: it feels like there’s good crossover in the skills required to conduct a good coaching conversation with those required to conduct good user research interviews.

I’ve been gradually improving the skills which I’ve learned can contribute to a user research interview which is a pleasant and comfortable experience for the user and hence is productive and useful for the thing we’re working on. Things like: good active listening; reflecting; referring back; careful control and use of body language and tone of voice; and avoiding leading, judging and offering up your own opinion. It turns out that these skills are useful in pleasant, comfortable, and productive coaching conversations too.

I’ve written a bit before on The Pastry Box about how I actually originally learned some of these skills through training to be a student counsellor with Nightline when I was at university.

I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when I made a promise to Holly to write a blog post about this crossover which I’d observed. But I’ve done it now. Perhaps one thing I’m saying is that if you’re good at and enjoy conducting user research interviews, you might well be good at holding coaching conversations and leading folks. And perhaps vice versa too.