Judgment vs. Observation

I wrote this post weeks ago, but needed to have it sit with me for awhile before I posted it. I have not edited it, and was not sure I was going to even post it.

A few months ago, I tweeted:

Observation without asking questions is dangerous….

I still hold this to be the truth. As User Experience professionals, we should be combining our observations with our ability to ask good questions. Making judgments based on observation alone does a disservice to the person we are observing as well as to ourselves. These are no longer observations then, but pure judgment based on our opinions that are not backed up by fact. A very important piece gets left out.

This week, I was saddened to read a blogpost by a leader in the UX profession “calling out” a younger member and calling her “unworthy of the attention that has been lavished upon her.” As a disclaimer, I will admit that I am good friends with the person who was the subject of this tirade. As her friend, it hurts me to see so many people feel that it’s alright to go after her and make her a target. Most of these people have never had a conversation with her and are basing their opinions solely on their observation, alone. I feel fortunate for having her in my life and being able to spend time with her. I enjoy watching people crowd around her at conferences. She is warm, welcoming and inclusive. She learns about people by asking questions. She remembers how hard it was to step out of her comfort zone and start talking with others and speaking. She encourages others to do the same. In speaking about her own experience, she invites others to become involved within our community. By sharing her own experiences with others, many have found their way in our community. I have also observed the way in which she works. She gains useful information for her designs by creating a comfortable, conversational environment. This is just one of her gifts. People have the right to disagree with her, but don’t minimize the impact she has made within community and with her work. When others come after her, unfairly, she maintains her dignity and doesn’t react, but acts with class. She is young and she will continually be refining her process and her way, as we all should, no matter how long we have been around or our age. No one has the right to stand in her way as she does this.

In watching the conversation continue to unfold on Twitter for the last several days, it seems to me that he did more damage to our community than any he is accusing her of. There is a great deal of divisiveness within the community now and the conversations based on his blogpost have even been graced with the hashtag #Uxbrawl. How could he not foresee that by doing something like this would cause a great divide? We have enough debate over, well, anything and everything. We don’t need someone creating an environment in which we feel we need to take someone’s side. We should be supportive and act as mentors (while allowing ourselves to be mentored, at the same time.) There is room in this industry for us all.

Over the years, I have observed traits common to those of us in the profession. We are curious people; we like to ask questions. We are collaborative and prefer to work with others than in isolation. We believe in community. The way in which an older, established member of this community can go after a rising star and call her out by name and in a public forum creates doubt that we are all like this. Why did he not approach her and talk to her privately? Why did he not take any opportunity to speak with her and ask her questions? If his intention was to make her go away, he really doesn’t have any idea of who she is. If his intention was a critique, why do it in such a mean way and publicly? I have many questions and know that they will not be answered, but maybe we should all learn from this ugly episode how we impact others and in doing so, how we look to others.

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