My picture is bigger than yours. No, no, mine is even bigger

There you are sitting in a meeting painting a verbal picture of how you want to solve a particular issue and then someone else pipes up with “I think we need to look at the bigger picture here” and starts talking about their solution. Obviously you’re irritated, because this is such a loaded way of interject. It’s basically saying:

  • Your thinking is just too narrow and you’re not considering all the things that need to be considered.
  • You don’t really understand what is important and what isn’t.

which in turn implies:

  • You’re an outsider (or soon to become one) in relation to the centre of power.
  • You’ve reached the limit of your abilities and won’t progress further.

The only problem is, that they might actually be right!

So your reaction to the interjection is crucial as you have to avoid any of the numerous traps that this simple phrase lays. The main problem you’ve got is that some in the room, possibly everyone, sees something of value in what has been said and wants to discuss it more. So if you’re not careful you can actually offend the sheep by your response.

  • The first trap is to try to pull the conversation back to your solution because you think you’ve got a better understanding of the issues. All that does is reinforce the view that you’re not getting it, making this a beginner’s error.
  • The second trap is to simply dismiss what the idiot says, because after all you know they’re an idiot. In that context, as well as offending the others who want to discuss it, it is likely that they will think your response is disrespectful. As everyone knows the higher someone rises the more subtle they become in their disrespect, so obvious disrespect just reinforces the view that you’re not going anywhere.
  • The third trap is to argue against it, no matter how well considered and presented your argument is. This might seem surprising since you would expect a good argument to be listened to. Unfortunately, the initial interjection has already set the thought in the minds of the listeners that you have not thought of these things and so talking about them now has no credibility – after all, if you had known about these things then why had you not spoken of them earlier?

That’s why control freaks use the “bigger picture” technique so often – almost nobody they use it against knows how to avoid the traps and those few that do normally only have one tactic available to them – silence, which everyone else takes as agreement. Perfect.

Every now and then though someone does know how to avoid the traps and to counter the move and does it with such aplomb that they can only be admired.

The first thing you do is listen intently when the interjection is made and immediately forget whatever solution you were talking about earlier and concentrate on the new solution. They ask earnest questions, ostensibly to show that you are really understanding it and in your desire to understand you want to explore even wider into the picture, but with the underlying intent of exposing the limits of the interjector’s thinking. Once the interjector starts to falter then your found those limits and you’ve got their way back in. Just push the boundaries of exploration out even further, generally by asking a “would you agree …” type of question to reframe the conversation into an even bigger picture than the one newly introduced. If you can finish that conversation with your questions lingering then you’ve done it – your picture is even bigger than theirs.

Of course the other person could counter at this point and push the boundaries even more in another direction and so verbal fencing begins. Most control freaks aren’t that clever or can’t think that quick on their feet, so if they do fence they are either genuine or a very rare and dangerous beast. In that case, a draw would be the safest bet. After all, you don’t want to be the control freak here.

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