I had an impromptu meeting with an employee yesterday, and I got something I wasn't expecting: criticism. The constructive kind. The I'm-talking-to-you-as-a-person-and-not-a-subordinate kind.
Do you know how often I get constructive criticism? Go ahead, guess.
It's never; okay, it's hardly ever. I get criticism a lot, or more-ish. I have at least one employee who doesn't think much of me as a manager and I get a lot of critical observations from her. I try to extract something valuable from it, but often I feel that she's just venting at me because she disapproves of my management style. That's okay with me, people are allowed to both vent and not like me at the same time.
Eunice (okay, not really, but isn't that the coolest name you ever heard?) was a little nervous to be speaking so bluntly and she rarely lets a negative words pass her lips about me (she loves me, can you imagine?) so when she asked if she could say something to me girl-to-girl without rank and authority in the way I was both pleased and surprised.
She was polite about it, showing respect to me as a person and as her superior (in the professional way, not the better-than-her way), but she was blunt and honest with me. It isn't often that any of my subordinates will be so frank with me about things they think I'm doing wrong, especially if they like me. The people who do not like me aren't so straight-forward because they do not think I will do the right thing, and the people who like me aren't so straight-forward because they don't want to criticise me and they end up excusing or justifying my actions because they know how busy I am and how hard I work, and on and on.
To have someone just lay out their observations about me in such a blunt way was a welcome change. I am a pretty blunt person myself, and unless someone tells me they have a problem it doesn't occur to me to ask. This attitude has some merit, and I'm certainly comfortable with it, but I am learning (again? still? for the eleventy-billionth time?) that it may not be the most conducive attitude in work-force management. There is a balance to be had there, but I have not found it yet.
I think it is hard to provide such criticism towards one's manager. Unless your company has specific policies and practices that are encouraged and followed, I'm sure that most employers don't provide a safe space for employees to speak in such a manner.
Something I have worked hard for is providing such a safe place - a place where my employee's experiences and opinions are valued, a place where they can tell me if they think I am screwing up without fear of backlash or discrimination for their honesty. I didn't think I was succeeding, until yesterday.
I still have a lot to learn, but I think I am headed in the right direction. Also, Eunice is my favourite. Don't tell the others, okay?