What’s Your Default Setting for Detail?

I do a lot of one-on-one coaching. And in most cases, I will conduct some background interviews to gather information about the person I am coaching… what are their strengths and weaknesses, and what gaps can I help fill? One of the most common weaknesses that I hear during those interviews is that the person I am coaching gets “too far into the weeds.” In all the background or 360 interviews I conduct, that feedback comes up more than 50% of the time. In other words, for the vast majority of professionals I work with, “too much detail” is a huge communication weakness.

Based on this reality, our team spends significant time in nearly every workshop discussing the role of detail in 21st century communication. Does detail matter? Of course it does. How much detail is necessary? That depends on many things: who your audience is, how familiar they are with the topic, how much time you have, how senior they are, how mission critical the situation is… The “necessary” amount of detail is variable. Making consistently good choices about how much detail to include is a critical component to being a consistently good communicator.

So, if the amount of detail you must include is variable, then what is your default setting? We all need to have one. But what is the correct one? For most people, the default is “more detail is better.” If I am not sure how much detail on this topic they want, then I’ll just give them plenty to make sure I satisfy their need. One way or another, many people think this way about their business communication.

But this is the wrong default setting… dead wrong.

Detail matters, very much. If you are going to be seen as credible, and as a subject matter expert, then you need to have a grasp of some detail. You need to be able to answer questions when they come up.

But you also need to be able to summarize, because not everyone wants or needs the same level of detail. Not everyone has the time or tolerance for lots of detail.

And in the 21st century, the correct default setting in your business communication is to be ready to go deep when someone asks, but also be able to summarize clearly. And lead with that summary. Once you have summarized, then you can always go deeper, if time and audience interest allow. But if we go too deep into detail, or lead with it immediately, we are almost certainly going to cause eyes to glaze over, and people will begin glancing at their watch every 24 seconds.

Your default setting in your business communication should be to lead with summary, lead with relevance, and then back it up with detail when time and interest allow.

More is not always better, especially when you are talking about the details of your business communication in a very fast paced, attention starved world.

Have a great day.

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.