This Sunday’s Corner Office column reminds me of the time I watched actor and Broadway star, Joanna Gleason, run a master class workshop for teen musical theater performers in Boston. Gleason was mesmerizing. After each teen performed their song, she led them through acting and singing strategies to make their delivery more thoughtful, powerful and assured. She was searingly honest and intelligent in her assessments and suggestions. She advised students about auditions. “Don’ t play the waiting room game, she exhorted. “You have no idea what directors are looking for! Don’t diffuse your energy worrying about the competition in the waiting room.” Broadway or no, I can relate to the dissipating, self-defeating, “What do they have that I don’t have?” syndrome.

Andrew M Thompson, C.E.O. of Proteus, addresses this same energy-sucking issue as it relates to integrating healthy feedback in an office. His philosophy? Speak frankly but don’t go over the net.  “If you go over the net that means that rather than describing behavior and how it makes you feel, you start explaining to the other person what their motivations are for their behavior. (i.e., ‘You are doing this because you don’t like me’) instead of describing the behavior (i.e., ‘When you yell at me it makes me feel like I am not valued.’) That’s where you get so many problems. 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 are doing anything. It’s like in tennis or volleyball, and you have to stay on your side of the net.” 

What a great metaphor. It addresses our very human instinct to decode behavior (which is what we are wired to do) but it sets a boundary around interpretative leaps that create much of the internal chatter that occupies too much of our vital energy. Just like “playing the waiting room” does.  Of course, implementation is a challenge. But next time we “go over the net” or “play the waiting room,” let’s visualize these metaphors, slow down and remember that probably nine times out of ten we are not serving our deepest needs and interests.