The devil is in the details

I’m thinking of getting a tattoo!

I’m pretty sure mine is going to say something like: “the devil is in the details and he’s laughing at you.” Have you ever thought what phrase represents you?

I spend a lot of my time loving life, wading through the murkiness of details to help my clients see the path and the light, in a non-denominational way that is. Helping them clarify the reasons for doing things, the changes that need to happen and sometimes even “the meaning of life” conversations.

A recent interaction with a client got me thinking. They were implementing a large scale project, but the details had just not been explored or understood. The impact was massive. A room full of extremely bright people, floundering in the uncertainty of the details. The devil had won, at least on that day he did.

That got me to thinking and pondering, why does this happen? Why does the big picture sometimes make us avoid the important little details? So here are my top five tips to stop the devil in his tracks.

Be the Paraphraser – No, this is not a new type of superhero. This is a person who clarifies and seeks to confirm they have heard what was said in a non-confrontational way. It has a positive effect in meetings and it shows not only that you are listening but that you are attempting to understand what the speaker has said. A few examples include “so what I’m hearing is….”, “I’d like to make sure I have understood correctly, is this right….”, “if I was saying that simply it would be….” Finish this with a check-in statement, such as “how did I go in summarising that?” or more simply “have I understood?”

Be the Deep Thinker, but ask broadly and slowly! – Think on at least four levels: people, policy, process, systems. These help you to make sure the details are covered. But don’t ask all of these questions in rapid succession. Not only will this annoy everyone in the room, but you won’t get the answers as they unfold. This skill set stems from leading and open questions, for example “So, tell me… from a staff point of view what would I be seeing differently?” Remember, implied facts and things are the devil’s work!

Be a Summariser – Have you walked away from a meeting and thought to yourself “that was a good meeting, but I’m not sure what is next”? To avoid this, a good method is to summarise with a statement such as “If we do this, this will mean…., and it will work this way….”

Be the Logic Jedi – The logic Jedi, is the yin to the devil’s yang. The light to his darkness. If you’re not sure where to start, tap into the logic side of your brain and talk about things in sequence or steps. “So, if we were doing this, first I would… then I would… and finally…” This is another tool in making sure the details are understood.

And last but not least…

Be wise and know when to keep quiet – Sometimes you just have to let people talk it out.

So here’s to me not getting a tattoo.

Little details have special talents in creating big problems!

Picture of Lisa Twyford

Lisa Twyford

At the start of my career, I learned quickly that many organisations were full of good intentions, but all too often lacking the skills and know-how to execute effectively. That’s why I founded clear decisions™ over 12 years ago. My vision was simple, I had a desire to help businesses and their people move through change projects with great success.


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