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Adjust Granularity, Find What’s Essential

It is the beginning of the week, and our boss comes into our office. She asks us to write a certain report for her, and she needs it until Friday. We know it is going to be tough, given the various engagements of the week. But it could just be that with some compromises on the less important tasks, and by rigidly turning down all other unpredictables of the week for which we usually keep some buffer time, Friday evening would be just about doable. What is our answer? Yes, of course.

What if we change granulariy on this situation? Like when playing around with the focus of a microscope, we can see different layers of the slide, which we ignored before. One level shows the situation now. Our boss in front of us, and if we say no, it is very imminent that we will get into trouble. The other level shows the situation on Friday: If we don’t deliver, we will get into trouble, too. Which trouble is bigger? Friday, of course. Not only will we disappoint our boss. By not telling her now, we deprive her of any option to avert failure. But Friday is not imminent. The nature of trouble on Friday is not so clear yet. Until Friday, there is still hope. By comparison, if we say no now, we create certain and immediate disappointment in the person in front of us. Right here. Right now. The fact that the present situation is more immediate and tangible, makes us overrate it by comparison. This difference between the small, immediate and tangible, and the big, vague, uncertain and distant, often influences our view. Getting the email out of our overflowing inbox, versus writing the email in such a way that the recipients do the right thing. Making the conversation quick vs. making sure it has the desired effect. Getting the difficult meeting over with, versus making sure we don’t need another meeting soon. Getting a good feedback for the event versus creating a lasting impact in consequence to the event.

How can we work against this tendency?

It all boils down to questioning our perspective, to playing around with the focus on our little microscope. My favourite way of doing this is to ask “and then what?” several times.

What method do you apply?

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