Imagine . . . .
Imagine someone you care about extending her hand toward you. In her hand she holds a small, robin’s egg blue box wrapped with a white ribbon. “Here,” she says, “it’s for you.”
What feelings would that beautiful little blue box evoke? Anticipation? Excitement? Gratitude? Curiosity?
For generations, the robin’s egg blue Tiffany box has captivated imaginations and stirred hearts. It is a cultural icon, synonymous with great value and esteem. And is the metaphor that one of my most important mentors offered me in the early days of my tenure as an employee relations director. “Every complaint is a gift,” he said. “One that you should imagine wrapped in a Tiffany Blue Box® tied with a bow. The box may contain critical information or represent a gift of trust.
Regardless, it must be treasured.”
I shared this story recently with leaders who were asking how they could inspire their managers to welcome concerns. While it was widely accepted that having an open culture was a good thing, the reality for these leaders was that their managers were resistant to feedback from employees. The managers, in their urgency to meet deadlines and accomplish “real work”, did not make themselves available to employees or discounted the concerns.
“The problem,” I offered, “is one of perception.” Rather than viewing concerns as offering value, the managers pre-judged complaints as annoyances and distractions, perhaps even as threats to the status quo.
The result? Implosion and/or explosion. People begin to keep quiet about problems that should be resolved or a situation erupts putting lives and reputations at significantly greater risk. Just ask General Motors, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Veterans Administration.
Rather than dreading the complaint, or resisting it, we should instead welcome and receive it with a measure of gratitude and anticipation for what the concern represents: an opportunity to clarify, a chance to correct course, a vote of confidence. Lives and careers may depend on it