Are you an introverted aspiring UX writer or content designer? If so, the mere thought of daily group meetings, lively brainstorms, direct feedback, user testing sessions, and presenting your work to stakeholders may make you feel exhausted. But it doesn’t have to be.
Here’s some advice to help you cope with the collaborative side of product design.
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Introverts and writing
In June 2022, Pieterjan Benoit and I held an event about UX writing, introverts and extroverts. A poll during the talk revealed that 60% of the audience identified as introverts, 32% as ambiverts and 3% were not sure. Only 5% confirmed that they see themselves as extroverts.
Based on the poll and the (very!) lively activity in the chat, the event confirmed our assumptions. Yes, many writers are introverted and yes, introverted writers working in UX find some aspects of product design daunting.
There are ways to navigate these challenges, though. We’ll show you how in this article 🙂
Professional writing has been a great match for introverts, for several reasons. One article on the topic states that it may have something to do with the way our brains are wired. Another reason is the minimal social interaction. Not that we’re always completely isolated, but writing lets us earn a living together with just our best friend, the laptop.
That’s not the case with UX writing.
What’s so special about UX writing and content design?
What’s the main difference between UX writing and other types of professional writing? Design thinking! In other words, if you come from a traditional writing background you need to learn design processes, methods, and tools.
What does that mean in practice? For sure there’s a lot more to it than learning how to use Figma (although it’s great to learn Figma). We have to get used to a completely new way of working, because product design is:
- Collaborative: You’ll take part in lively daily standups, sprint planning meetings, ideation brainstorms, open feedback sessions, and retrospectives.
- Iterative: Everything is a work in process. Instead of spending, say, a month fine-tuning your copy, it will be up for regular review. Whatever you have come up with in a week or a day may be discussed by everyone in the team, including non-writers. (This is a good thing, especially if your target groups include non-writers, which in most cases they will).
- Research-based: As a UX writer, you shouldn’t base your copy decisions solely on your own experience and best practices. Your work should be backed up by research, whether you conduct that research yourself or work with a research team. And UX research is a bit different from most academic research, because it’s based on interacting with people more than with books and articles.
For extroverted writers, UX writing must be a dream come true. A writing gig where you spend more time communicating with people than you do writing copy. Like, wow!
But depending on how introverted you are, these parts of the job can be tough. Why is that, exactly? Let’s take a step back and consider what introversion and extroversion mean.
What do introversion and extroversion mean?
Before we dive in, remember that nobody is 100% introverted or extroverted. The lucky few who fall bang in the middle are known as ambiverts.
As many as up to half the population may be classified as introverts (according to some studies, results vary). But in many parts of the world, extroversion is the norm. As a result, introverts often end up pretending to be more extroverted than we are, because we feel the social pressure. So it can be hard to tell who’s an introvert and who’s an extrovert.
Introversion and shyness are two different things
It’s a common misconception that introverts are shy and socially awkward. Today, there’s a broad consensus that shyness and introversion are two different things. Of course it’s possible to be both shy and introverted, but it’s useful to be aware of the difference between them. Shyness is a character trait you have a chance of changing, should you want you. Introversion and extroversion on the other hand are usually considered permanent aspects of our identity and not things we can easily change.
Where we get our energy from
When you start looking into what introversion and extroversion really mean, you’ll bump into the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung sooner if not later. He didn’t come up with the terms, but he made some interesting observations on the topic in his research. He concluded:
“Each person seems to be energized more by either the external world (extroversion) or the internal world (introversion).”
The keyword is energized. What really separates introverts from extroverts is where we get our energy from and how we recharge. If being around people energizes you, you’re extroverted. If it drains you, you’re introverted.
Extroverts ➡ need stimulation. Introverts ➡ overstimulation is exhausting.
How we process information
Research has also revealed other differences between intros and extros. According to the book The Introvert Advantage by Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, introverts and extroverts process information differently:
“Introverts tend to favor long-term memory over working memory, while extroverts do the opposite.”
In practice, this means that extroverts need less thinking time before they come up with an answer. They simply extract what they have to hand in their working memory. Introverts have a natural tendency to scan through, analyze and organize everything they have stored in their long-term memory.
This explains why extroverts often come across as witty and verbally quick, even when they’re put on the spot. Us introverts on the other hand, well… It can be challenging to make a good impression in interviews and meetings, which rely on verbal interaction.
These fundamental differences have some interesting and profound effects on our behavior and can lead to a bunch of common misunderstandings.
Difference 1: Way of thinking
- Extroverts organize their thoughts by talking
- Introverts organize their thoughts by thinking, and prefers to communicate their opinion only after they’ve come to a conclusion
Possible misunderstanding: Mutual frustration. Extroverts get annoyed by “passive” introverts, and introverts get overwhelmed by “loud and chatty” extroverts.
Difference 2: Way of communicating
Extroverts and introverts
- Approach discussions differently
- Have different ideas about silence
- Respond to being interrupted in different ways
Possible misunderstanding: For introverts, silence is a great way to gather their thoughts. This can be downright unnerving for extroverts, who may think there’s something wrong. Also, extroverts often see interruption as a perfectly normal way to keep up the conversation, while introverts may find it rude and unsettling.
Difference 3: Way of acting
- Extroverts love to take action and move things forward
- Introverts like to consider all options and make a plan before they act
Possible misunderstanding: Though this can also be a source of frustration, it can also be advantageous, with the two sides balancing one another. The introverts keep things from moving too fast and getting out of control, while the extroverts keep things from getting stagnant.
How to cope as an introverted UX writer
It’s in our nature as introverts to get exhausted when we’re around people, and this affects how we communicate on a deeper level. How can we cope in a lively product design team?
Luckily there are plenty of things we can do to navigate these challenges. We’ve collected some smart tips from our recent talk and added a few from the lively chat.
- Go for 1-1 connections and get personal. Many introverts find it less draining to be around people we know—so get to know the people you work with!
- Use a variety of communication channels, not just face-to-face meetings. Email, Slack… whatever works for you 🙂
- Explain to people that you are introverted. For sure this doesn’t come naturally to introverts, but you could consider telling your line manager in a 1-1, for example.
- Use your strengths. Introverts are often good listeners, and listening goes hand in hand with empathy, which is great both for relationship building and for UX in general.
- Start small with low-pressure interactions. Expand your comfort zone gradually rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end.
- Share stuff you’re truly passionate about—passion is stronger than anxiety and makes it worth the effort.
- Focus on the subject matter rather than on you as a person.
- Don’t push yourself too hard. If you’re not ready to promote yourself in meetings and events, stick to writing for a while! There are usually plenty of options to promote yourself through blog writing etc.
Meetings and presentations
- Prepare as much as you possibly can.
- Create or ask for the meeting agenda in advance.
- Before a presentation, be sure to practise by verbalizing what you’re going to say out loud—it really does help!
- If ideas come to you after the meeting, that’s cool—share them by email, on Slack, or through whatever communication channels you use at work.
- Manage your expectations before meetings and other events. For example, set yourself a goal of contributing once per meeting.
- It’s almost always OK to say, “you’ve put me on the spot there,” “I might have to think about that,” “I’m not sure off the top of my head but let me get back to you.”
- When you’re put on the spot, try winning time by repeating the question back to the person who asked, or by asking them to clarify the question. Sometimes, a few extra seconds is enough to free up some space.
- It’s OK to say that you don’t like being interrupted.
- Team up with someone to hold a presentation.
- Keep telling yourself that presentations are fun. (Difficult, we know! But it really does help.) And if you tell yourself that you’re a rubbish presenter, you’re not giving yourself a chance.
- Remember that public speaking is an acquired skill that anyone can learn.
Here are some more tips from the event chat:
“I use the ‘raise hand’ feature in Google meet. It’s great for introverts!”
“I work on radio but I’m an introvert. I learned to imagine always talking to just one person, no matter how many people are listening.”
“Centering in on one person when I talk works for me, so I feel less anxious.”
“I usually listen to a calming podcast or music right before a meeting (where I have to present) so that I can cut out distractions.”
“Start with a presentation about a topic you really love. It will be exciting to share the info with other people because you’re already excited about the topic.”
Three introverted superpowers
Plenty of challenges for introverts, then. But let’s not forget that both introverts and extroverts by default are equipped with a set of UX writing superpowers.
- Introverts tend to talk less than they listen, and listening is an excellent starting point for developing empathy. And of course empathy is a fantastic skill to have in UX, because it allows us to put ourselves in our users’ shoes.
- They are also often good at deep work, which most definitely comes in handy when it comes to UX research—whether you’re conducting the research yourself or go through research created by others.
- Finally, if introverts manage to translate the way we talk to the way we write, we have another superpower right there: the ability to write concisely and explain ourselves with as few words as possible. As UX Writing Hub’s instructor and mentor Damian Corrigan says: “Write like an introverted human (few words, but complete sentences).”
Last but not least, remember that a well-known introvert is Barack Obama. If an introvert could run the US successfully, I think it’s safe to say that we can deal with the challenges of a UX writing job. You’ve got this!
Resources for introverts
- UX writing, introverts and extroverts (online event, 1 hour)
- Jonathan Colman about giving speeches and being an introverted manager (YouTube video, 5 minutes)
- UX, introverts, and extroverts: What’s the deal? (article)
- Why introverts make exceptional UX designers (article)
- Jung’s theory on Introverts, Extraverts, and Ambiverts (YouTube video, 6 mins 30 sec)
- The power of introverts with Susan Cain (TED talk on YouTube, 19 minutes)
- Introvert, dear (website / community / podcast)
- Why is writing easier than speaking for introverts? Here’s the science (article)
- The introvert advantage by Dr. Marti Olsen Laney (book)
- 16 personalities (free online test)
- What Is UX Writing? A Complete Guide For Beginners
- The Rise (and Role) of Content Design
- 6 Reasons to Learn UX Writing in 2022
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