Business issues / problems are like fractals. You can drill into the details or see things at a high level. The trick is to be able to understand what level you are looking at, and what level other folks may be at, and the relative difference that can contribute to missed communications.
Some conversations at work this week have been interesting, and in hindsight I realized that I was seeing priorities / objectives / issues at one level, and my counterpart was seeing things at a different level. In one case, I needed the other person to understand things at a higher level (challenging when the higher level is still somewhat confidential, so I have limited ability to close the gap). In another case, my counterpart continues to think high level as I try to get them focused on a lower level of detail so we can drive issues to closure and get stuff done.
Driving home one day, I drew a mental connection to a popular game called Katamari Damacy. At the start, you’re rolling a ball and picking up toothpicks, matches, thumbtacks; as your ball gets bigger, you pick up cats, cars, buildings, skyscrapers, giant squid … pretty weird, strangely amusing. The interesting thing to note is that as you get larger and larger, the relative size of things doesn’t really change – rolling up an elephant with a large ball is the same as rolling up a pushpin with a small ball.
Organizational influence and “politics” is kind of like that as well – no matter how large an organization, most folks have a reasonably sized circle of 30 contact points that covers all the influence they need to have. In a small organization, that covers everyone, even the guy on the shipping dock. In a large organization, that covers heads of teams or departments that you interact with. Yes, the indirect sphere of influence may be huge, but on a daily, get the job done basis, your CEO has a direct circle that’s the same size as yours.
So back to the communication issue … who is responsible for success? I say You are – sender or receiver. Be sensitive to the possibility that my conversational counterpart is thinking / perceiving understanding at a fundamentally different level. Can I get that person to understand the bigger / smaller picture, at the level I need them to be at? Conversely, do I need to get to their level?