He shares the example of having a colleague who has been late four times. “You might snap and say, ‘well, obviously this meeting isn’t important to you!’ This, however, is ‘over-the-net’ because you have no idea if this meeting is important to him or not. You are playing in ‘his court’ and this response won’t lead to a problem-solving discussion but a defensive argument.”
Robin emphasises that the purpose of feedback is to move into a problem-solving conversation – not to change someone else. Net jumping leads to more net jumping, inaccurate judgment and accusations.
Robin describes the example of her husband’s return home from work. She would talk about her day; he would respond with grunts from behind a newspaper. Robin reacted by saying ‘you’re not listening,’ but this was ‘over-the-net’ and caused him to be defensive, making her more angry.
“Eventually I learned to say, ‘honey, when I’m speaking and you make no eye contact, and your only response is a grunt, I don’t feel heard.’ By speaking from my reality, in a way that didn’t accuse his motive or intention, I provided indisputable feedback that led to a problem-solving conversation and deeper connection.”
To have such conversations, Bradford believes that we need to be in touch with our emotions.
Carole Robin, Stanford professor and co-author of Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues.
“It’s the ability to be in touch with one’s feelings and empathise with others, raise disagreements and resolve them productively that is so important in organisations,” says Bradford.
Robin explains that we all need to build the capacity to pick up two signals from two different antennas – one that picks up what’s going on for yourself internally, the other that picks up what’s going on for someone else.
“The more you are attuned to those signals and the more they inform the choices you make in your interactions, the more likely you are to move towards exceptional relationships.”
Twenty-five years after taking the Interpersonal Dynamics course, in 2014 Andrea Corney started teaching it.
A CEO in Robin’s programme starts every team meeting by having each member speak for two minutes on “if you really knew me”. He has discovered that the sooner they trust each other, the sooner the teammates can connect and work more productively.
Andrea Corney, who took the course in 1989, when she was an MBA student at Stanford, facilitated training groups the following year and has been teaching the course since 2014.
“The course was transformative for me, and the skills I brought to my marriage are largely why we have survived and thrived as a couple.”
Corney recalls the time she resisted going ‘over-the-net’ when her new roommate never emptied the dishwasher.
“I felt resentful, thinking she was lazy but said, ‘My sense is that most of the time I’m the one emptying the dishwasher, do you agree?’ She agreed, saying I was neat and particular, and that she worried about putting things in the wrong cabinet, and we calmly found a solution.”
Corney believes that if more leaders developed an awareness of interpersonal dynamics, everyday interactions would be less stressful and more productive.
“We tell students that they can use their authority as managers to get ‘compliance’ but they will only get high performance through the quality of the relationships they create on their teams.”