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Attack or Engage: We Need a Shift in Leadership Mindsets

My favorite line from “Pirates of the Caribbean” is: “If you were waiting for the opportune moment…that was it.”


I’m not new to the UX industry, but I’m young compared to a lot of practitioners. I tend to be curious, ask questions, and try to listen when those more experienced than me start talking.

But Twitter is a delicate medium: it’s so reactive and time-sensitive; it often feels like there’s a fine line between engaging and attacking. And social media in general facilitates confusing conversation threads and misunderstood tones.

For instance, at the 2017 An Event Apart conference in Denver, I tweeted:

Screenshot of a tweet by Jess Hutton. The tweet says, Don't just listen to people (qualitative data). People lie. Look at the numbers (quantitative data). Together, you'll see a clearer picture of what's going on. @lukew #AEADenver Retweets, likes, and a few more stats are shown at the bottom.

These were direct quotes from the speaker, and I was live-tweeting the event on behalf of my sponsor, So my feed was kind of like those ticket machines at the arcade when you hit the jackpot. And I consciously chose to not use quotation marks to save time. I assumed the speaker’s handle and conference hashtag would be enough to convey that these were someone else’s words.

But several prominent, Twitter-verified, self-proclaimed UX experts caught the phrase “People lie” and were faced with a decision: attack or engage.

They chose to attack.

When I asked for clarification on their position or presented case studies that supported Luke’s statement, they were defensive: “I didn’t misread. Perhaps you misread my explanation.” (emphasis mine) And as the argument progressed, other Twitterers were drawn into taking sides.


We forget that this is a conversation we’ve been having since the internet began:

There is always a human being on the other side of the thing you’re attacking.

I’m just like anybody else. And that week, I was dealing with more than I’ve ever had on my plate: I was in the middle of a painful divorce, alone in a new city, alone at a conference, trying to process my own personal stuff as well as the daily barrage of news and scandal. I was the human being on the other side of the thing being attacked.


Whether they realize it or not, industry leaders wield power.

I believe these UX leaders missed a huge opportunity.

They missed the chance to step up as mentor, role model, leader.

They missed a chance to be kind and teach rather than flex their UX muscles.

They missed the opportunity to step into the life and career of a younger version of themselves and help shape the way forward.

They missed the chance to encourage discussion and thoughtfulness and growth.

Rather than seeing a soap box moment or platform to preach at someone else’s expense, there was a chance for a collaborative exploration of the piece they’d taken issue with. And they missed it.


As I grow in this industry, I hope to have the presence of mind and awareness of others to not seize opportunities to show off, but to gratefully offer help from the experience I’ve garnered. To mentor and model, not react. To engage, and never attack.

Kristina Halvorson says, “If you want people to dig deeper, be ready to do it yourself.”


With many thanks to Kristina Halvorson and Ronell Smith for their time, feedback, and leadership.


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