You Have a Nail in Your Tire (or “How to Recognize and Digest Constructive Input for UXers”)
Have you ever discovered a nail in your car’s tire? Are you aware of the potential risk of driving with a nail in your tire? Consider the following:
- According to CarParts.com, “The longer you drive with a nail in your tire, the higher the risk of you losing control of your vehicle and causing a serious accident.”
- YourMechanic.com says “As soon as you notice a nail in your tire, contact a tire store to have your tire inspected. Driving with a hole in your tire is potentially dangerous and could cause a blowout. Furthermore, driving too long with the nail can ruin the tire so you will have to replace the entire tire, instead of having a small piece plugged.”
- SaneDriver.com contributes to this discussion, saying “Driving on a nail in tire for an extended period damages the tire, though. So, as long as the tire does not run flat or the nail size is small, you can keep driving at your peril. Note that a nail in a tire threatens public safety. If you drive on a regular tire, you can’t go too long with a nail in it.”
Someone’s likely wondering, at this point, what this has to do with UX. Well…. everything. Whether it’s the work or a person’s individual status, constructivism and iteration it at the core of what we do and who we are. No matter what we’re giving attention to or addressing, the application of critical thinking and providing insights that either validate current state (i.e., success) or points out what needs to be changed or improved. Upon hearing this input, the ball is now in the court of the receiving individual.
Enter the “You have a nail in your tire” metaphor. Any time someone provides critical input (and please keep in mind that applicable constructive criticism must be accurate), the person hearing the message is in a position to digest what’s said and then choose whether to apply or disregard. When an accurate statement is made about your/my person or something we’ve worked on, it’s always in our best interest to receive that information and apply the guidance and insights received. End of story. Case closed. No harm, no foul. Thanks for the info.
We know, however, this is not the case—especially in UX today. Today’s world of UX is replete with contrary factors such as hypersensitivity narcissism, toxic positivity, denial, and the like. When you tell these folks they “have a nail in their tire,” instead of being grateful and making the change that was presented (the emotionally intelligent thing to do), they do one (or more) of the following:
- They ask deflecting questions—questions that usually can’t be addressed in some way, form, or fashion, which licenses them (in their mind) to disregard what was said.
- They insinuate messages that were not part of the person’s statements, distracting others and starting a conversation around the misdirected and imaginary dialog.
- They engage in acts of character assassination (e.g., falsely accusing the person of being mean or insensitive), hoping to cancel and discredit the person who brought the message and (in their mind) dismiss the relevance and accountability of the constructive statements.
- They shift the conversation from the message to the person behind the message and attempt to cast the messenger in a doubtful light. Mission accomplished. By the time the perp is done, nobody is even talking about what was said initially. Instead, they’re talking about the messenger, even though most facets of the discussion contain fallacies and have zero merit.
- Similar to #2 and #4, they just change the subject.
These and other responses are basically attempts to dismiss what was relevant. All the while, the “nail is still in the tire.”
Here’s my proposition. The EQ things to do when we receive constructive input include the following:
- First, labor (if necessary) to confirm the accuracy of what’s presented. If someone’s talking about your work and it’s accurate, validate, own it, and make the change(s). If they’re talking about you and something about you that needs to change, validate, own it, and make the change(s). Again, however, the first key is validation. If you respond to inaccurate input, thoughts, or guidance, you will fix something that’s not broken and, now, you’ll be in a bad way.
- Society regularly uses terms such as positive and negative. In reality, there’s no such thing. There is, however, such things as being constructive or destructive. Constructive things build, benefit, and help people grow, while destructive things cause people to regress, become victims of sabotage, and render folks vain and void of value. When someone gives you advice and you think it to be “negative,” the only way you’ll truly know is to consider what would happen if you were to accept what’s being said and apply it. If you can truly build, benefit, and grow from what’s said, no matter how it may sound or make you feel, it’s actually constructive. If it’s the opposite, it’s destructive.
- Constructive statements may not make you feel good. As a matter-of-fact, you might feel terrible. It’s better, however, to do good than to feel good. There’s no sense operating in delusion (i.e., toxic positivity).
- Building on #2, let’s say someone gives you some UX career or educational advice and their tone of voice is truly inappropriate. In such cases, I challenge you to separate what they’ve said from their tone, gauge the value in the words and directives alone, and move accordingly. This will help you to harvest gold from folks who aren’t that good at talking to people. Remember, their tone doesn’t change the value of their words.
- Some people have gone their whole lives being resentful of anyone who gave them a stern word. Truth is, practically all of us can look back at a stern word we received from an adult when we were young. We didn’t like the way it made us feel, but when we revisit such a memory, we now know that which was said or done to be true or the right thing to do. Now, that we’re all older and more mature, it’s time to reference those retrospective moments of enlightenment and apply it to our UX aspirations. Greater success awaits those that do.
This post has been written in response to the people who find fault with those, such as myself (and others—I’m not the only one) who CARE ENOUGH about someone’s state, condition, or trajectory to speak the things that are needful, though they’e not comfortable. Not only do these things not result in winning a lot of friends, but many respond by trolling and subjecting those of us willing to speak to character assassination.
Therefore, this is a plea… for your sake. Failing to understand that the things being said and done are actually for YOUR benefit has consequences. Do you want to “lose control of your vehicle?” Aren’t you interested in “having your tire inspected” (by someone with enough expertise to do so)? Do you want to have “a blowout?” Do you want your “tire to go bad?” Do you want your “tire to go flat?” Don’t you want to “drive your vehicle without peril?” The only way you can accomplish this is to “get the nail out of your tire”…. whatever that “nail” might be.
In closing, if someone informs you “there’s a nail in your tire,” that’s a good thing. Such people, while despised and avoided by many, are actually helping you to avoid potential tragedy and hardship. They’re helping you to enjoy a better quality of life. When there’s a detrimental factor in your UX career, it makes all the sense in the world for you to be aware, even when the discovery doesn’t result in making you feel good.
People who CARE ENOUGH to bring such issues to light are demonized when, truth be told, the silent factions are guilty of negligence and disrespect. It’s time to embrace today’s “nail” dialogs so we can be in a better position to navigate our UX careers upward and onward.
It’s time to stop rejecting and resisting the “nail in the tire” conversations. It’s time to be better at identifying, digesting, and placing the appropriate value on constructive dialog. It’s time to stop being offended by truth!!!
Let’s lose the “nails” and take the UX discipline to the next level…. together.
Darren Hood is a 26+ year UX practitioner with a broad professional footprint that spans several types of business. He serves as an adjunct professor at Kent State University (Kent, Ohio), Lawrence Tech University (Southfield, Michigan), and Harrisburg University (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is also one of the authors featured in “97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know.”