For those of you old enough to remember, tapes preceded CD’s for consuming music. You could also record stuff. Recorded stuff could be played back, over and over again–play and rewind, play and rewind.
When the concept of playing something back, over and over again, is applied to a previous, and often times negative experience or association about people, the metaphor “old tapes” gets used. Think about it, do any of the statements below sound familiar?
“She manages up well, but not side-by-side or below.”
“He’s more about the numbers than the people.”
“He’s more concerned with his own career than anything else.”
We all have done it. It doesn’t feel to me that any real good can come of it. It’s what the author Brenda Frederickson calls “gratuitous negativity.”–negativity for nagativity’s sake.
So why do we do it?
Some of us like to talk and contribute. When asked a question about someone, we feel like we need to blurt out what is top of mind, instead of nothing. And while it is top of our mind, it could have happened 4 years ago. But yet we still say it as if we know it to be true today (when we don’t). Another reason might be that we don’t like the other person (for whatever reason) or we feel insecure. Playing back old tapes validates those negative feelings within us.
Receivers of this type of messaging should make a conscious effort to try and qualify the statements as true. “Are you sure?” “When was the last time you observed this?” “Have you directly talked to the person recently?”
When you hear people citing old tapes, those questions are good guidelines to use. It’s also OK, in my opinion, to let people say “I don’t have any recent observations on that person.”
Brian Buford once said, “If you haven’t observed someone in at least two, preferably three, different (and recent) settings, don’t give feedback. You always can share perceptions, but that’s different from feedback. Ram Charan believes that superior talent assessment results from suspending judgment and intentional observation. Only through deep observation of one’s actions and decisions can we confirm or disconfirm our hypotheses. Then we can share informed feedback.” (parentheses mine)
Assume good intent, people can change. I saw a post I liked recently saying, “you don’t know what battles I’m working through.” Essentially, there are times where we do or say things because of something larger going on that others don’t know about. Ask them questions, seek to understand, and collect multiple data points. Providing real, recent, and relevant context is what matters.