When most people evaluate some aspect of their life or business, they usually clarify their opinion about that area. They work through it in their head and start to judge what is right and what is wrong.
They start to turn the situation into a series of black and white aspects. They start to split it apart in their mind to see what is good and what is bad.
But I’ve found that this often leads to more confusion and misunderstanding. The reason is because the situation is usually significantly more complex. Trying to simplify is a good strategy to understand what is going on, but doing so by trying to establish absolutes can be dangerous.
Years ago I worked with a project manager who was struggling with aspects of his person life. He had tons of experience and knew the program he was responsible for like the back of his hand.
Unfortunately the turmoil at home bled into his work. He suddenly was unreliable. He would give answers that sounded correct when asked about his project but then we would find out he was incorrect.
This became a problem because the insight he gave led us to build out our business strategy. I recall being in meetings where people started to turn on him. They would say he was unreliable or that he didn’t know what he was doing.
But it was much more complex than that. The more I worked with him I started to realize that most of the time he knew what he was talking about and could answer difficult questions about his program that nobody else knew.
I started to realize that there were certain areas that he just wasn’t as familiar. And he was the type to guess, rather than stop and admit he might not know the answer. By realizing this, I was able to structure the questions differently to get the information I needed from him.
Instead of asking questions in a way where he felt cornered and felt he had to answer right away, I would pose questions to him to get him to open up. I started to realize that if given a more open environment where he could talk through the problem he would explain the areas that he was certain about and the areas were he wasn’t completely sure.
This changed our relationship quite a bit and I started to realize that getting the information from him was more about me and the way I asked him questions. While at first we started to just write him off as unreliable or unknowledgeable, this wasn’t the full situation.
This is just one example of trying to simplify understanding of something (or someone) and then forming misleading judgments. Life is very complex. Simplifying can help make sense of everything but be very careful we don’t cut out important information and form absolutes in our mind. These absolutes are often just a small portion of the full system that we focus on but that doesn’t mean the areas we ignore are no longer important.
In other words, dig deeper before forming an opinion and realize that there is always more going on than what we initially observe.