It seems that every few months I have a similar conversation: Someone asks me how to give feedback to a difficult person.
This week the conversation was with a manager I’ll call Toni.
“What is it about this person that makes it difficult for you to give him feedback?” I asked.
“He gets defensive, and he can’t admit mistakes. I don’t want to upset him and have him leave though; he’s our most productive developer,” Toni said.
“How’s his code?” I asked.
“He really cranks out the code — he’s an order of magnitude more productive than anyone else on the team. The trouble is, is code is so complex that the other guys have trouble understanding it. And he gets impatient with them. He feels like he shouldn’t have to waste his time explaining his code to people who aren’t as smart as he is.”
“So what do the other guys who have to work with his code or maintain his code do?”
“They really struggle, because the code is so complex — I mean this guy is brilliant. He can hold 15 thoughts in his head, where most people can only hold 7, so they have a hard time understanding his code,” Toni replied.
“So the way he writes code makes everyone else on the team less productive?” I asked.
[Long silence.] “I never thought of it that way….”
(Some how the feedback problem changes at this point.)