Good Work—Edition Nº 32

A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
Andy Sparks
▪︎ 5 minutes read time

🎶 Songlines by The Derek Trucks Band

When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty obtained that wise men look for.Milton, Aeropagitica*

In the first few years I was managing people it felt like everyone had something to complain about. The grievances poured into a sad swimming pool of injustice. I did my best to address the issues, but it doesn’t take many complaints at once to overwhelm even the most well-intentioned managers. I quickly came to dread complaints, becoming fast friends with phrases like, “Here we go again.”

Struggling, my co-founder suggested I work with an executive coach. The coach I found, Christina, encouraged me to think of complaints as gifts. Because when someone on the team complains, what’s really happening is that they’re standing up for something. They’re saying, “Something’s going on here and I am not okay with it.”

Complaints are rarely delivered in crisp and clear language. The aggrieved might not call direct attention to systemic issues, but they’re like canaries calling out symptoms of what those deep issues might be. The actual words of a complaint may appear to be about one surface-level thing, but a good manager can tell when they’re a sign that there’s a much larger issue. As a manager, it’s critical to listen to the gripes, even when they seem small.

When we don’t know how to solve something, we can revert to our child-selves—turn up the volume, say the same thing over and over again, hoping we’ll be heard. Don’t fall prey to the mistake of interpreting this behavior as whining or a desire to shirk responsibility. Instead, look at each complaint as an expression of pain, someone asking that you listen and help them solve a problem, together.

Finally, remember that each complaint is someone doing their best to improve the team. If you trust that they are in this with you, you need to listen.

This Week

Emotions in the Office

Good Work

  • I’ve been doing more product design lately. As someone who first learned Photoshop and Illustrator in a high school class called “Computer Art I,” studied history in college, and learned how to design iPhone apps via YouTube, Design+Code by Meng To is a gift from the almighty. If you’re at all interested in learning about design, code, or the intersection of the two, block off some time to dig into this resource.
  • We’re hiring a Managing Editor at Holloway to lead the production of free and open content. We refuse to call it “content marketing” for fear that we’ll end up being pitched “32 things you need to…” pieces. I came across “What I wish I knew five years ago about building a career in ‘content’” by Sean Blanda this week, and it struck me as a terrific explanation of what on Earth is going on in content and how to build a career around it.

That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.

Andy and the Holloway team

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