17 August 2015

Yes, No, Yes?

My Yes, No, Yes? Post-It reminder 

I have been using this simple structure for replying to emails for a few years now and it continues to be of value so I thought I would pass on this tip. On a daily basis us design ninjas are going to receive an email that is suggesting an idea or approach which is so far from being user-centered that it sends your pulse racing and makes you want to yell at your laptop screen.

Remember this recommendation at the end of my last post…

  • never be dismissive of their ideas; understand the core of what they are trying to achieve and steer this in a user-focused direction

Our partners outside of UX also care deeply about the products we are building together, but their decisions are motivated by other factors so. If you with a negative critical approach a couple of things could happen:
  1. The recipient knows they are right and so they will work around you
  2. The conversation is shut down and a possibly great solution is lost

When replying to these emails try and follow this structure:


People have a need to feel heard. If at least we have had our point of view acknowledged then we are more open to moving towards a different solution or more able to let it go if our idea is rejected. I trained as a massage therapist between 2002 and 2004 and we spent much of it practicing active listening. While someone is talking to you, if you can state back what they have said in your own words the other person feels heard and validated which encourages people to open up more and continue talking.

So start by thinking about what they are trying to achieve in their email, there will be a lot of words in the way so it can take some analysis. This itself is a useful exercise as it forces you to slow down and think about an email rather than just reflexively respond. There is a concept calling Priming where every word you read will be interpreted based on your mood and what is happening in your life, so if you read that email an hour later it is likely it would have different meaning for you. Taking time to think about their meaning helps counter reactive responses.

In your own words state what you think they are trying to achieve, acknowledge it. Every word you write after this will likely be interpreted in a more positive way by the recipient.


State your criticism of their idea. Your goal is to keep their mind open for part 3, so anything that can be perceived as a personal criticism or judgment is going to work against you. As I mentioned in the last post, evidence is your friend so point to any research, related projects or scientific papers to support your criticism or you will end up in the opinion vs opinion death spiral. Keep it brief as you want to get them to part 3 ASAP and offer to discuss it in person (or at least face to face over VC) where the discussion will be more effective.


It is easy to criticize ideas, you can do it all day long with minimal effort. We started this email by stating their goals so extract their core objective and make an alternative recommendation which achieves their goals but is focused on the user and meeting their needs.

This step is critical as it moves the conversation forward rather than shuts it down. It also puts you in the same place of vulnerability as the recipient as it takes bravery to put an idea out there to be judged and criticized by others. By stating your own idea you are now establishing a more equal relationship which enables your Adult to talk to their Adult rather than any parental/child relationship being established which often leads to rebellion or submission on the part of the person perceiving judgement. 

A note on bravery

Bravery is essential for a design ninja and it deserves a whole blog post in itself. Our lives involve putting our ideas out there to be criticized every day and in the same way we condition our bones and build up calluses during our training, us design ninjas need to develop our design calluses to take a daily beating and still perservere. More on that to come.

Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha and his sledgehammer fists punching through a house brick

No comments:

Post a Comment