Effective Communication

When You Need to Sweat the Small Stuff

sweat small stuff

There is an iconic urban myth about interviewing for a role at IBM.

The story goes something like this: You are taken to lunch. Present at this lunch are you — and of course a couple of powerful hiring managers. You all chat, you order lunch, it arrives. What are the managers attending to during this interview? Your skill set? Your previous experience? No. They are observing whether or not you salt your food before you take the first bite. What might this tell them about you and your future at their venerable organization? That you are open to experience? That you possess an open-mind? That you are a perfect fit for their team? Uh — not so fast.

I’m all in for an easily grasped explanation, but sometimes we go a bit too far. As a psychologist, my work focuses upon understanding workplace experiences — and I’m certain that  K.I.S.S.–Keep it Simple, Stupid–was originally coined to describe systems, not human behavior. However, there has always been a powerful push-pull operating. Human behavior is stubbornly complicated — but, we would like to make it appear simple. (As the legendary job interview illustrates.) Instead we might consider erring on the side of complexity, but concentrate on communicating the expanded theory effectively. We shouldn’t fear complexity. It doesn’t have to be viewed as the threshold of our undoing.

It is, in fact, the secret sauce.

There is no single behavior or question to accurately predict future workplace performance during an employment interview. (An elevator pitch, is a fantastic staple — yet it’s brevity does not always suffice.) As such, a reasonable balance of structured exploration is likely more preferable. Ultimately, we have to be willing to take that deeper dive into certain challenges — and look beyond the hype and buzz words.

Where human behavior is concerned — oversimplification can be dangerous. If you are solving a challenge (for example, high turnover in one job category, difficulty recruiting), be sure to embrace a broad perspective of the issue. Take the extra time to look beyond the obvious. Include those nuances, even if they slow you down temporarily.

However, here is the start of a brief guide. Capture the relevant variables. When all is said and done, be sure that all of the important elements are at least considered. Workplace issues are often multifaceted. That’s OK. Treat them as such.

  • Consider what (and when) to share. Communicating a concept is critical step — and what you share can make or break its power to change opinion. Take note of what an audience is likely to absorb at one sitting, but push the envelope and keep the essence of the concept intact. Focus on inspiring both thought and action.
  • Indulge your curiosity. Taking a deeper look at an issue, is often worth the investment. If you have an indication that something is off or appears unexplained, take that side path to fully explore it. There is likely more under the surface.
  • Limit assumptions. We often view workplace behaviors with previous biases intact. I’ve made the mistake of jumping to a conclusion much too quickly. Try to avoid that scenario. Biases can mask complexity.

Do we over-simplify the workplace challenges we face? How does that affect our proposed solutions?

About the Author

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who specializes in workplace success strategies and organizational change. She helps individuals, teams and organizations develop intelligently—to meet work life challenges with a sense of confidence and empowerment.