“YOU Take Control as a User Researcher”

After two days of preparing materials, practicing the protocol, and setting up technologies, I finally am able to lead a one-hour pilot session. My mentor and peer teammate are observing behind my participant and me, offering support when I need.

After thanking our pilot participant after the pilot, my mentor closes the door.

I see. I am about to receive the first official “performance feedback” from the team. It’s big for me. It’s exciting. Until then, I have never received a sit-down feedback thing for moderating a user research test session. All I know about myself is that I love saying “I love receiving feedback from my mentors and improving myself based on that feedback.” I’ve said that so many times so that must be true.

“So, what do you think?” My mentor asks.

“When the file crashed, I was certainly nervous. Um, yeah.” I give a few details of the moments that I am not proud of. My mentor then provides a few alternatives to go around the challenges, which we might not have enough to finish in a day. My teammate who has run a similar study two months ago also offers me a few suggestions.

“Absolutely, I will get myself more familiar with the technologies and see what I can do,” I reply.

For a second I think that is all the feedback they have for me.

“As a user researcher, you need to take control,” my mentor continues. “You will be polite, but not apologetic. It helps the participant stay invested.”

My teammate also shares a few tips on how to be “a friendly robot” for this specific study.

“It could be a cultural thing too,” my mentor continues, that my habit of nodding or bowing could give the undesired impression.

In terms of collecting Likert scale data from participants, they suggest that I not use “thank you,” since it could be interpreted as an encouragement — we don’t want to thank our participants for giving us a “good score.” A gentle repetition or something similarly neutral, an “I see,” could be more appropriate in this case.

Flashback: I learned the “thank you” strategy from a workshop a few years ago, when the instructor was highlighting the importance of showing absolutely no judgment on a participant. For example, user researchers shall not defend themselves when the participants raise their concerns or dissatisfaction of a certain aspect of the product. How about saying “good” after the participant gives a rating in a survey? Still no. It could be leading and biased, encouraging the participant to “say good things to please the study moderator.”

I also learned about using “I see” from a discussion with the designer on my capstone team a few months ago. Like my mentor said, I’d agree that it could be an even more neutral expression than “thank you.” However, it is still challenging for me to use it without having it followed by a “thank you,” though.

Photo by  Charlie Deets  on  Unsplash

Flash forward to this moment. How do I feel about my performance after our little sit-down? A little embarrassed, but based on the fact that I know I can do better. I will. Not that I could have done better but I tried and I will try harder. This whole conversation reminds me of the UX podcast, Mixed Methods, the episode “Don’t Leave Data on the Table,” on how researchers give each other feedback at a company. I find it truly speaking to me today.