Is Your Achilles Heel Communicating the Details?

Almost a year ago, I wrote a three-part series on big picture thinking versus detail-orientation. This delineation is just one way of categorizing the way we think, the way we solve problems, and how we go about getting work done. Big picture thinkers tend to be creative, strategic, and visionary, while the detail-oriented are conscientious, planful, and exacting. As a quick reference, here are the links to the previous posts on this topic:

In the workplace there is often a clash between the big picture person and the detail-oriented person. While the two styles are very complementary and can work together quite well (i.e., one’s strengths fill in for the weaknesses of the other), they often have trouble communicating with each other.  So it is no surprise that I continue to receive feedback on this topic from time to time; people often want to be more like who they are not.

We, especially the high-achieving among us, tend to curse our weaknesses and underappreciate our strengths. On a very basic level, this is appropriate to do. If you are plainly letting things fall through the cracks (e.g., you tell your boss you will give him an update at the end of the day and you forget to do so), you clearly need a better personal organization system. However, equally as often the problem is not that you need to become more detail-oriented, but that you need to communicate in a more detailed manner.

This is good news; changing your communication style is doable. What you want to do is adapt your communication style to fit your boss’s preference. When you are the big picture thinker, and your boss is more detail-oriented, “what happens is you say to your boss, I’ve got it, but then your boss wants to see all the spreadsheets and project plans. He is thinking about way more detail than you are, even though you are the one doing the work” writes Patty Azzarello on TLNT.

This situation feels backwards of how things should be and thus can be quite frustrating. Here are tips, adapted from the article, on how to deal with such a dilemma:

  • Don’t even consider doing it your way; you will not get away with not communicating the details.
  • Focus on communicating in a way that your boss can hear you and is satisfied with your information—give data and specifics.
  • Your goal is to deflect overly-detailed questions by taking the initiative to dive into a comprehensive overview first.
  • Use a flow chart to illustrate the timeline of the project.
  • Prepare your talking points in advance—outline your process for tackling the task/project.
  • Even better if you can prepare a handout.
  • Don’t think you need to have it all thought out—an explanation of your next steps or your outline for the first pass is often more than enough to appease your detail-oriented manager.
  • Redirect the conversation from being about process to being about the outcome.

Communicating in a manner that is congruent with the way that your boss thinks is a way to be more productive, have more relevant conversations, and more or less sound brilliant when it matters most.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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  • Anonymous

    @Eva: Great post!  Do you have any suggestions for communicating details in e-mail?  For example, should you put the main points up front and then direct people to an attachment for all the details?  I’ve found that long-winded messages with huge paragraphs tend to turn people off.

    [Reply]

    Eva Rykr Reply:

    I like to write a 1-2 sentence summary of what the email is about (the main point and/or the action item) and then add details in scannable format below (bulletpoints, list, etc.). I think this parallels people’s thought process as they read email. 1) What’s your point/why is this relevant… 2) Specific questions they have after knowing #1. Using multiple short paragraphs and formatting to bold, underline can help long messages be read quickly as well. 

    [Reply]

    Eva Rykr Reply:

    I like to write a 1-2 sentence summary of what the email is about (the main point and/or the action item) and then add details in scannable format below (bulletpoints, list, etc.). I think this parallels people’s thought process as they read email. 1) What’s your point/why is this relevant… 2) Specific questions they have after knowing #1. Using multiple short paragraphs and formatting to bold, underline can help long messages be read quickly as well. 

    [Reply]

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