Paul McAleer

You already know the truth

Paul McAleer

I've spoken here about feedback, specifically on conflating professional and personal feedback. But what happens when the feedback you receive is very personal?

At one point in my career I began to get feedback of another kind, suggesting that I was a troublemaker. Not doing work. Not doing... whatever it was I was "supposed" to be doing.

Initially I was upset by this. But soon I was able to let it go.

The anger came from a place of logic, really. I was doing a lot of work. I had thrown myself into my work (possibly to the detriment of my whole self). I cared deeply about what I did, what my team did, and of course what my whole department did. But was I making trouble? I considered it and then found an answer.

In short, no.

What I was doing was making some people uncomfortable. In UX work, this happens because we cross so many "silos" and work with so many different people. There are some people who welcome this type of collaboration and it shows. Some people are very threatened by this and will do anything to protect what they have. And some people, frankly, see UX as "their" job, even if they don't know how to do it.

I uncovered a fundamental misunderstanding of what I was doing (the assumption was more visual design and less strategic), and some people had such an incorrect picture that instead of talking with me directly, they made it personal.

The response? Well, the response was to keep doing what I was doing and let the haters hate. Now, I acknowledge that I have no control over others' opinions of me. To some, I probably always will be a troublemaker. Or a guy who questions things "too much."

But after I received this feedback I chose to adjust a couple of things.

For one, I began to talk and work directly with the people I deemed "enemies". A strong word, but really what I wanted to do was to uncover the misunderstanding. Get at the source. This didn't mean I became buddy buddy with them. The reality was that I needed those people to get my job done. They did design work too, and ultimately I started to find a good amount of things in common. We were talking about the same thing and the same goals, so I soon was able to count them in on what I was working on.

In addition I made myself more open to collaboration - even though I felt I was already quite open to it. I involved as many people at a team level as I could. I invited in C-level execs to view usability tests, hear the results, and get the analysis. There were still wireframes. I was okay with that.

In the not-too-distant past, I would have taken this feedback deep inside of me and let it consume me. It would have been detrimental to my morale. But I knew I was good at what I did - not just from external measures but internal ones too. My head and heart know me. I'm in a different place even now. This type of thing rolls off me: I make an attempt to understand where it's coming from, understand that it's misplaced, and consider changing things.

But if I know what I'm doing in my heart is right, then I'm sticking with it.