Whether in business or personal life I have found that saying what you mean is crucial. In business, this falls into the category of “under promise and over deliver.” In personal life, this means not over-dramatizing situations. We often use hyperbole and exaggeration to get the attention of others or to drive home a point. However, how often does that tactic work?
As a father, this can be very difficult. It is too easy to threaten to ground a child for a year or lecture them over spilled milk. I see this tendency for the dramatic in managers, leads, and coaches as well. Simple mistakes get blown out of proportion and create an atmosphere of fear. That may stress people out, but it is not a productive result.
Exaggeration and the Boy Who Cried, “Wolf!”
The stories of chicken little and the boy who cried wolf teach us about exaggeration at an early age. We learn that people get numb to repeated false alarms and hysterics. The problem is that we don’t seem to remember this as we get older. Politicians are the worst case of this over-dramatization. Every event, every vote, every day they tell us things are the best or worst ever and the world is about to end if only we let them save us. Unfortunately, we non-politicians are no different.
How often do we come across assignments at work that will make or break the company? How often do we make idle threats? With all of this hyperbole and exaggeration, how can we expect to get our ideas communicated?
Let Your Yes Be Yes
One of the best ways I have found to lead, follow, or get out the way is to stick to simple language. Leave theatrics to actors and actresses. This means you have to slow down and take a deep breath during charged situations. When your child tells you they failed all their classes you don’t respond by grounding them for life. When your team loses a game you don’t throw chairs across the court. The report you want tomorrow but don’t need until next week can wait until next week.
This is all just a matter of setting expectations. It seems like common sense, but if it is, then it is a struggle we all seem to have. I am sure there is a great psychological explanation related to being heard and “taken seriously”, but that doesn’t change reality.
Check Your Self
Exaggeration is often done in an intentional way to elicit a laugh or shoot down an idea. This is intentional hyperbole and not our focus for today. It is the habitual way we talk that we want to address. For example, I spent a period of a few years where I was quick to ground my older boys. They were young teenagers and provided a steady stream of reasons for me to discipline them. In my frustration, I often exaggerated the discipline rather than do so after careful consideration. This lead to me quickly running out of ways to discipline the children. In the end, I made it hard on myself when I wanted to show that there were small and big mistakes they made in that time.
I worked at a company that provides a similar example. The atmosphere among employees was fear based. Whether someone willfully stole from the company or accidentally scheduled a meeting an hour late, there was a reckoning. The senior managers all tended to be big on loud “chewing out” sessions. Again, this approach made it hard for employees to weigh small errors as opposed to large ones. This also stopped almost all risk-taking, because the cost was often considered too great.
Life is Always About Balance
We seem to be growing more to extremes rather than balance. Our children are not allowed to keep score in games because we want them all to be winners. On the other hand, every mistake we make is the end of the world. Zero tolerance programs have preschool boys suspended for pretending to shoot people and listed as sexual predators for kissing a girl. At the end of the day, I think we all know that the best route through life is a balanced approach. Take a step today to work on balancing your life with a little less exaggeration. If you don’t, the sky will fall down on us all.