Response to a LinkedIn Thread on How to Deal With Derisive Team Members

28 February 2019

Here's the LinkedIn thread I have to respond to here because of exceeding their character count.


You were definitely correct to challenge this, Amy.

Since you asked: my response to this, early in my career, was to not say anything. Terrible idea! I've learned better since then. Here are some different levels of examples and how I’ve dealt with it over the past 10 years:

— Participant says, “Someday, I hope to make it to all 52 states.” My eyebrows definitely raised a bit on that one, but ultimately it wasn't entirely relevant to the core of the research. The team, on hearing this, laughed that someone couldn't count the number of US states (as a US citizen). My response was to connect with the team and say, “Odd, definitely, but not really relevant to why we’re here.” And we moved on.

— Participant can’t figure out how to use the concept prototype we made. Not her fault, obviously. Upon review of this with the team, one person says, “What an -effing-* idiot.” To which I responded, “That person is someone who pays your salary.” It shut him up in the moment, but made things difficult later because I’d “embarrassed” him in front of the team.

— Participant spends 45 minutes complaining about how bad a service is. As was his right as it was his perspective. A client’s employee was with me and got mad at the participant. I asked the employee to step outside and fired them from the project. “Leave. Don’t come back.”

In my mind, part of my job is to protect participants. The longer I do this work, the less patience I have with people who attack participants (in whatever context). I wish I had lost patience with that long ago.

That said, the best thing I’ve learned from all the micro- and macro-aggressions against participants over the years is: to truly move an individual from derision to empathy, you have to do it 1-on-1. This is something I noted in the talk I gave late last year.

Depending on your (one’s) relationship with the person/company paying you to research, there are different levels of responsibility for fixing the issue. There's likely a somewhat complex decision-tree that needs to be made that has outcomes of “chat with the person 1-on-1” to “notify their boss” to “actively work to put that company out of business.”


*Only he didn't say effing.