Giving Productive Feedback That’s Not Over the Net

There’s a definition of insanity that goes something like this: trying to achieve a different result doing the same thing over and over.

Sometimes we don’t know that’s what we’re doing and that is why feedback is oneresponsible feedback to communicate and manage change of the most important tools we have professionally and personally. It helps us to spot and manage change by finding opportunity. It saves us time from beating our head against a brick wall. It also helps us not to read into other people’s motivations which can ruin relationships. We can clarify by asking questions and open up the space for dialogue that leads to understanding. The New York Times recently interviewed Andrew Thompson, the CEO of Proteus, a biomedical company, on how he coaches his team to give responsible feedback:

You’ve got to have people understand how you talk to each other, and it’s got to be direct.  It’s got to be in the moment, and it can’t be “over the net.” When you give somebody feedback, it can’t be to say, “You’re doing this because you don’t like me,” or whatever.  It’s got to be a very straightforward thing where you say, “When you yell at me, it makes me feel like I’m not valued.”   

Q. What do you mean by “over the net”?

 “If you’re over the net, that means that rather than describing the behavior and how it makes you feel, you start explaining to the other person what their motivations are for their own behavior.   That’s where you get so many problems, because people see the behavior and rather than giving feedback, they sit there and stew and concoct all the reasons why it’s happening.  People concoct all this imaginary garbage about why the person is doing this to them when in fact the person may not even realize that they’re doing anything.   It’s like in tennis or volleyball, and you have to stay on your side of the net.”

Thompson says his own feedback has shown him how some members of his team view his leadership style as too demanding while others find it very productive.  He says he is managing those differing perceptions by constantly communicating and, of course, getting the feedback to know he’s on the right path.

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