Andy Schulkind on viewing a rather humiliating and horrible example of how to treat your employees.
About ten years ago I sat in my cube and wondered what was wrong with Susie. She was a good employee, conscientious, hardworking, committed, and a good trainer. But lately she has been resistant, and withdrawn. She was refusing to complete work assignments that involved writing, and I couldn’t understand why.
I set up a meeting to talk with her. It was clear she was uncomfortable. She sat with arms crossed, and wouldn’t make eye contact. We got into the discussion about her not completing writing assignments. Susie, shifted in her chair. Her brow furrowed, her face became red and she said, “I can’t complete the assignment.”
I asked her why, and her response was, “I’m not a good writer.” I asked, “Why do you say that?” She said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Look Susie, I need to understand what’s going on. This is the first time I’ve seen you this upset about anything I’ve asked you to do. I believe you can do this and do it well. I really don’t understand what’s going.”
There was a long pause. Her head hung down, in what looked like shame. I knew if I stayed silent, she would share this with me. We sat quietly for about three minutes, which in silence, is like an eternity.
She took a deep breath, and exhaled. Then she said, “This is not going to be easy for me. My last supervisor, Mary, asked me to write something for her. I was really nervous. I spent a lot time thinking about what she wanted and put several hours of effort into it. When I finished it, I went to her office and gave it to her.”
Susie, was trying to control her emotions. I couldn’t tell if it was anger or tears she was holding back. She went on. “Mary read it.” Susie paused and pulled a page from her legal pad. Holding the paper in her hand, she said, “Then Mary looked at me and said ’I can’t possibly use this.'”
As she quoted Mary, Susie crumpled the paper in her hand into a ball, and dropped the paper ball into a trash can, simulating what Mary had done.
I was absolutely stunned. Stunned at the humiliation Susie had endured at the hands of her former supervisor, Mary. I spent the next fifteen minutes apologizing for the callous treatment of my predecessor, and listening to Susie express the dread that I would do exactly the same thing to her.
I was blown away, that she would think that about me, but I could also understand her fear. Mary, never gave her any feedback, or any opportunity to improve. Mary never gave her another writing assignment. It crushed Susie’s potential and self-esteem.
Well, it was a turning point in our working relationship, as well as Susie’s ability to improve her writing. She finished the assignment, and took more risks to expand her knowledge and experience. When I left the company a couple of years later, Susie and her peers took me out to lunch and gave me a brass clock, which sits on my desk today.
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