The Three Indispensable Skills of Effective Researchers
Best Practices, User Experience, UXResearch

The Three Indispensable Skills of Effective Researchers

User Experience Research is what Usability Sciences is all about, and we're well acquainted with the skills that matter most for actionable research. So, if you think this might be the field for you, consider these three skills.

If you're a curious person – interested in learning and the relentless pursuit of information and understanding – you could scarcely pick a better field than UX Research.

It's also a field whose services are in high demand. With more and more companies seeking to understand the changing needs of their markets and to do everything possible to enhance their customers' user experience, skilled researchers are in higher demand than ever.

The opportunity is undoubtedly plentiful for those who are interested. But besides your natural curiosity, how can you tell if you would make a good researcher?

User Experience Research is what Usability Sciences is all about, and we're well acquainted with the skills that matter most for actionable research. So, if you think this might be the field for you, consider whether the following three skills are part of your arsenal:

1. You're an active and reflective listener.

Duh, right? But there is listening. And then there is listening, which is much harder than it looks and sounds. An active and reflective listener engages with the people expressing themselves. Not to be confused with listening to respond, active listening is listening to understand.  

Good listening is more than just staying quiet and letting a person talk uninterrupted while occasionally mumbling "mm-hmm" and repeating what was heard. While most people associate these with good listening (and they are certainly valuable in the field of research), an active and reflective listener is more than that. 

In a 2016 article for Harvard Business Review, authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman present effective listening as a much more dynamic and interactive process. They profile several different kinds of effective listeners, one being especially pertinent for would-be researchers: 

"The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct." 

The goal of an effective listener is always to gain a complete and accurate understanding of what the other party is trying to convey. The effective listener knows when to stop and clarify a point, when to seek context and when to pull back and let the other person talk. 


2. You're a problem solver.

This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg proposition. Research is essential for solving problems. But problem-solving is also a vital skill for conducting effective research.

We can't say which came first, but we can certainly expound upon the importance of problem-solving skills for influential researchers.

Writing in Forbes, Benjamin Laker explained how leaders in global affairs must approach problem-solving:

"Problem-solving is not usually completed in a straight line, with fixed questions and predetermined answers. Instead, it requires learning, agility, curiosity, and intuition."

He goes on to quote Dr. Lebene Soga of Henley Business School, who contrasts problems with puzzles. Whereas most puzzles have only one possible solution, a problem requires the person to truly understand its scope before exploring different solutions.

Research works in the same way.

Arriving at the most valuable and accurate information requires the researcher to explore multiple angles and possibilities. To be sure, there are standardized processes to follow in gathering the data. This is how the research avoids bias. But problem-solving skills are critical in both gathering and analyzing that data.


3. You're objective — consistently.

We usually think of objectivity as the opposite of bias. The objective person follows the facts wherever they lead, whereas the biased person tries to push the narrative in a particular direction to fit the biased person's agenda.

But objectivity in research requires an even more basic commitment: The only agenda is the integrity of the process because that is the only way to gather complete and accurate data – and to arrive at an understanding of what the data means.

Objectivity does not require the researcher to have no opinion on the research subject. That is nearly impossible for the average person regarding most topics. Instead, objectivity values the gathering of factual data more highly than the promotion of a pre-existing point of view.

The objective researcher isn't worried that the data might lead to a conclusion that contradicts their opinion. The best researchers want to deepen their understanding of any issue – even an issue on which they already have strong feelings.

Remember, a client won't benefit from research that is tainted by the researcher's agenda. And as a bonus, the truly objective researcher who seeks nothing but irrefutable facts will learn a lot more than an agenda-driven person who has already made up their mind.


Are you a natural-born researcher?

The best researchers are curious by nature. They enjoy gathering new information because it enhances their grasp of a subject.

Influential researchers welcome new information and perspectives, even if it challenges their beliefs. Above all else, a researcher wants to gain more insight to build a deeper understanding of practically anything, from market dynamics to cultural attitudes to the purchasing priorities of consumers.

The ability to listen well ensures the greatest mastery of the information others have to offer. The ability to solve problems equips the researcher with high-level effectiveness in analyzing and understanding the data. And objectivity keeps the mind open to whatever the data might be trying to reveal.

If you’re considering a career as a researcher, start by assessing yourself in these three areas. But don't stop there.

You'll also need the ability to ask the right questions, search out the best information sources, manage projects and write reports on your findings – not to mention more fundamental yet crucial skills like goal setting, planning, scheduling, and organizing.

Just about every industry needs researchers who have these skills in abundance. If you have them, a very rewarding career could be waiting for you.