Five Ways to Avoid Being Reactive

Dealing directly with stakeholders can be a challenge. From gathering input to getting commitment for a design, the various opinions and methods of communication can be maddening. Good design requires patience and time. While gathering input from stakeholders is both necessary and valuable, allowing yourself to be reactive to their demands and concerns can take a toll on the final product.

In situations where the pressure is on, here are five things you can do instead of reacting:

Take a deep breath.

When confronted in a meeting or call, it’s easy to react quickly and in a way that will be reason for regret later. Maybe a developer doesn’t like an aesthetic choice that ties together the entire design system, or maybe an executive has a question about how to integrate a technology you’re unfamiliar with.

Take a deep breath in.

The developer may not understand the design system and the executive may not see that her request will delay launch by another nine months, but despite this, they both likely want to make the product the best it can be.

Consider what is being asked of you. Are you comfortable committing to a solution? If you are, great. Commit. If not, think about what you need to be confident.


Ask questions.

If you need to know more about a situation before providing a response, ask questions.

If you’ve taken a deep breath and a request seems off-the-wall crazy to you, get to the bottom of the situation by asking questions. Take a curious stance instead of a skeptical one, and ask what makes a stakeholder not like rounded corners, why a developer prefers a different solution than the one presented, or what brings up a specific concern for an executive.

Questions can also give you a moment out of the spotlight if you just need to formulate a response. Try something general about users’ behaviors, technology constraints, or business needs. While stakeholders respond, take another few deep breaths.

Make your needs known.

Consider what is being asked of you, and what you need to feel confident in providing a solution. If you need more time to explore alternative design solutions or if you need access to an expert, inform the room. You don’t need to get deep into the details, but you should ask if you need help setting up a meeting with someone or getting support from another team.

Communicate a plan.

Once you have answers to your questions and have made your needs known, set expectations for how long it will take to find a solution. If you’re dependent on someone else for input, make this clear. And if you don’t feel confident in committing to a solution, commit only to next steps.s

Set a precedent.

The more often you react to a question or demand, the more your colleagues will expect it. You might get a reputation for being reactive, or worse for making rash decisions in the moment. Instead, cultivate a reputation of being responsive and thoughtful. Commit only when you can, and make it clear what you need when you can’t. Stay focused on the work, the plan, and next steps. Rinse. Repeat.

Not only will these tactics help when managing stakeholders and their expectations, they will also keep you afloat when an asshole inevitably infiltrates your team. Reacting to ego and judgement only amplify the problems; whereas staying calm and prioritizing the quality of the work keeps the conversation progressing in a positive way.