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From Suggestion Box to Question Box

Posted Oct 22 2008 6:28pm

Are you open to a suggestion? Maybe it's time to chuck your suggestion box.

Organizational psychologist B ruce L. Katcher strongly suggests we jettison the suggestion box in business. "There is no better way I know of to stifle openness," he says, "than to tell employees to 'stuff' their suggestions in a box. The use of such a policy clearly signals to employees that voicing their suggestions openly to their manager or senior management would be unacceptable or ineffective."

How so? Because suggestion boxes are rarely solutions-oriented. The suggestions therein are treated as opinion. The contents of the suggestion box may never make it past the first reader, who also has an opinion as to the suggestion's validity. There's no dialogue...which may be just fine with employees who fear retribution for speaking their minds anyway.

Lack of openness—whether in the workplace, socially, or in our families—is where gossip and backstabbing often begin. If we foster a climate in our homes, relationships, and offices of "shoot the messenger," who would want to risk being shot? It's not that we won't communicate our needs, ideas, or grievances; we'll just do it in some interesting ways...revenge, avoidance, passive-aggression, irate letters to the editor. In fact, at the moment I'd love to take revenge on my upstairs neighbor, who brushes his dog and scatters the fur out his front door to land on the tree—and my doormat—below. And because I have the tools of self-inquiry, I have a better place to put my aggression; on paper.

The homeowner's association where I live has a policy of neighbors not discussing their grievances with neighbors. Instead, we are to submit any ongoing complaints to the management association, lest we be accused in turn of harassment. Since most of the world does not have a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet handy, perhaps this is wise. It is, however, the equivalent of stuffing the suggestion box.

I don't know how he would feel about it, but I would greatly prefer to be able to speak directly to Mr. Neighbor, who I've never even met. I'm sure we could come to some understanding without the management company's intervention. For all I know, he may be innocently unaware of how his actions affect other people in the complex.

Meanwhile, I can look at where I'm still deliberately putitng a "suggestion box" between myself and others. Is it safe to tell me the truth? Not always; especially if you are a family member or very close friend, and you are critical of me "after all I've done for you!" (Hmm, I'd better read and do the exercises in my Mothers and Others eBook again!)

Is your suggestion box cramping your communication style?

Can your children tell you the truth without consequences? Your siblings? Your friends? Your partner? Are they afraid of how you'll react? Must they act through an intermediary in order to be heard?

Are you uneasy about telling your boss how you feel? What do you assume about how she'll hear you (or won't hear you)?

Do you really want to know what your employees think of you and the company, or do you ignore or punish them?

Does someone filter suggestions before they get to you? You may see this as a time-saver, but you might also be avoiding something. If so, what is it?

When you receive feedback, do you really receive it...and act on it?


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