This is the transcript from a three-minute talk I gave at Side Project Society recently. I crammed a lot in those three minutes, and I hope it encourages you.

Photo by @april_lelia on Instagram

Photo by @april_lelia on Instagram

As a UX professional, I care deeply about talking to the people I build products for and meeting their needs, and, as I often preach to others, so much insight is hidden deep in the bowels of casual conversation. So, it should come as no surprise that a string of these types of conversations changed my career and helped me launch multiple successful side projects, starting specifically when I decided to move on from doing creative media in churches.

I decided to ask what I call God—you can call it your gut if it pleases you—hard questions and decided to listen to an inner voice, instead of making it scream like we’re prone to do. From there, I knew my wife (the smartest person I know) would help guide me. I asked God and April hard questions often and listened intently to their responses. I still do.

When I had final interviews for one startup and a massive company that both offered exciting jobs, I asked them directly about my family coming first. I listened to their response.

So, I didn’t take either of them because I asked good questions. Later, I’d have lunch with John Saddington, who would actually end up telling me what to look for in an opportunity. I listened to him.

When I interviewed at Pardot, and my then boss told me he wanted me in a different position, it rang of what John had told me, so I asked the owners of the company how they approached running a company and how they felt about my family coming first. I listened. I launched my career in UX there, which has felt like what I was always supposed to be doing. I now affect thousands of peoples’ lives every day.

When that same boss encouraged me to keep up the public speaking, I listened. I toured Europe last year.

When I went to Grok several years ago, I asked a group a question about a music startup I’d worked on. Their answers directly led to a long-lasting partnership with local record stores in which we’re not only making money, but a difference for these stores.

When I had an idea for something now called Evermore, I dedicated a year to asking people about their needs, and truly listened. I asked a smart, older mentor type a question about pricing and listened. A friend of mine became my co-founder because I was listening while we were talking casually one day. It all paid off: we’re growing, our customers love us, and we’re achieving product-market fit more quickly than most.

So, stop trying to get the answers you’re looking for.

Start talking to smart people, ask hard questions, shut up, forget about yourself, and listen.

People are always the key.

When was the last time you were deeply motivated to do something positive because you felt ashamed? Ashamed that you did something naive or downright silly because you didn’t know any better? Embarrassed because more experienced people mocked you instead of quietly helping?

People are not positively motivated by shame.

Sometimes guilt can be helpful, but guilt comes after knowingly doing something wrong.
Sometimes embarrassment can be helpful, because it helps us to be more cautious after an honest mistake.

But, shame? Nope. It’s different than guilt or embarrassment.

Shame, however, is born of ignorance or of not having mastered a concept…that we think we have mastered.

And public shaming smacks of a superiority complex. The shamer is dragging the shamed out into the public square, and everyone loses, because the former is displaying questionable motives while the latter learns just about nothing.

Well, not nothing. They’re probably learning that the community doing the shaming isn’t worth being a part of.

Exhibit A: WordPress

The WordPress community hasn’t always been the best at welcoming new people—in that manner, it’s really not different from any other community that revolves around a codebase. There’s been a concerted effort in the past few years to be inclusive and accessible, though, and I do believe it’s paying off. Friendly WordPressers are being more helpful than ever, and WordCamps are bastions of sharing and learning.

Even outlandish requests in Trac (WordPress core’s ticketing system) are being handled with more grace then ever.

But, in an effort to push WordPress standards to make a better community overall, we have to be mindful of our tendency to shame those who aren’t doing it “right.” Instead, back away from your Twitter account, and take the time to contact someone personally with a helpful attitude.

For instance, here are some unhelpful, shaming public statements:

  • Who does that?!
  • Someone is getting paid to do that?!
  • What a shady business. I feel bad for their customers.
  • It’s sad that people can get talked into that.

Now, here are some helpful alternatives:

  • I know your theme/plugin is successful, so can we talk about your use of best practices?
  • I have a client who’s having trouble switching from your platform to another. How can we fix this?
  • May I send you an email with some suggestions that would make your product more valuable overall?

Shame will not motivate anyone to do better, but constructive, empathetic criticism often will. By affirming that someone’s work already has value and respecting that, you’re in a much better place to offer suggestions. And, by coming from a better place, you’re far more likely to effect the change you want to see in a manner that builds everyone up.

Next time you see something being done wrongly, consider that the folks involved may not know they’re doing so. If it’s remotely possible, then public shaming is actually your least likely path to fixing the problem.

That is what you were aiming to do, right?

September 19, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, Community, Development, WordPress