Seeing the Forest through the Trees

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to develop great outcomes almost without effort?  As if they are omniscient? They see the big picture while the rest of us are slogging through the brush trying to find the path.  Dr. David Rock talks about “the clarity of distance” in his book Quiet Leadership.  He suggests that by “listening for potential” in those around you, you will be much more effective if you keep your distance or stay away from your own agenda, filter, too much detail or hot spots.

We all walk around with our own filters; sometimes we don’t even use them knowingly.  I run into this when I am coaching clients and a Human Resource situation comes up.  Say, the client talks about a situation that involves a co-worker potentially being harassed.  My human resource filter can easily turn on.  Suddenly, I’m not engaged in listening; I’m trying to resolve the harassment issue instead of trying to understand the client. images 3

Analysis paralysis is another solution killer.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, more data does not make for a better decision.  In fact, he says, “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” I’m not suggesting you send off the space shuttle without some engineering but when it comes to many decisions or solutions at hand, staying out of the details can be a real advantage.

So how can you start seeing the forest through the trees?  Here are some tips:

1. Step Back.  It’s much easier to make a great decision if you step back from the situation.  If you are too invested in the outcome or the person making the decision, you can definitely derail the decision making process.  My son is applying to colleges and recently decided to apply to my alma mater’s arch rival.  I’m not going to be a good listener or have his best interest in mind if I’m worried about him rooting against the Big Red.  If you can’t step away; at least bite your tongue.

2. Paralysis.  Don’t end up in analysis paralysis.  If you are helping someone make a decision, don’t create endless delays waiting for more facts and information.  I don’t suffer from this but I know a lot of people that do.  I remember an episode of  “This American Life” called Cat and Mouse where a man had been searching for over 20 years for the perfect couch.  It was a huge decision but he just kept gathering more data.  As of the airing of the episode, he STILL did not have a couch.  He’s in the forest and buried in a gigantic pile of leaves.

3. Taboos.  Acknowledge that there are areas where you just can’t be of any help and remain unbiased.  These are things that hold some emotional charge normally.  My husband can’t watch a movie that has adultery.  Therefore, he is not a good person to be a sounding board for someone deciding if they should stay with a cheating spouse. He cannot be unbiased…let alone control his emotions. Make sure you have the self awareness to know your taboos. You don’t want to be a part of the problem or to become the problem.

4. Lens check. When a team is trying to create solutions, everyone at the table has a different “lens”. Finance is trying to figure out how to fund it, Information Services is trying to figure out how to automate it and Sales is trying to figure out how to sell it. You’ve spent years of laying neuroplasty down in your head through education, work experience and making decisions based on that lens. It can be a unique perspective or completely out of your element.  Having Maintenance on the 401(k) Committee may not make a lot of sense. Yes, the perspective might be unique but duct tape isn’t going to help in most investment decisions. Make sure you know your own lens in order to see the forest.

5. Close Agendas. Depending on the situation, we all have agendas.  I speak some Spanish. If my daughter is researching study abroad programs, I’m going to push for Spain over China.  My son has a seafood allergy; he’s not going to be on board with a sushi restaurant.  My colleague’s friend owns a BBQ restaurant.  We end up with a lot of BBQ for catered events.  This is not a problem in a lot of situations but you want to be aware of your agendas if you are selected to be on the committee to decide the menu for the Annual Holiday Party.  If my son and colleague are on the committee, we’ll end up with BBQ. If you want to see the forest, make sure you are staying off the same old path through the trees.

To bring perspective to any situation, we need to make sure we know ourselves. Keeping our biases in check and knowing that, if we can’t, maybe we can bring our perspective at another time, in order to help see the forest through the trees.

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