I was in a meeting with my co-worker Will the other day, and I felt a growing frustration. As he talked about one idea after another, products we COULD sell and features we COULD add, I was thinking about how much work was involved, how we were potentially changing the focus of the company, would need to hire new people, and more. We needed to change to grow, but I was instantly resistant. Objectively everything he was saying was appropriate... so why was I getting so worked up?
I pulled him aside after the meeting to talk. "We're at different altitudes," I said.
Will is a visionary. He's at 50,000 ft. looking at everything around us, learning from the past and seeing months into the future. It's his job to see where we're headed, and to guide us there.
In my current role, I'm an operator. I'm on the ground, looking at what's directly in front of and behind me. It's my job to translate the 50,000 ft view into actionable next steps - contract terms, product specifics, sales tactics, etc.
Communication metaphors like altitude help us to understand each other's frames of reference. When someone's coming from a different altitude, it's easy to be caught off guard. Likewise we might not realize that our altitude frustrates or confuses others.
As soon as Will and I established the altitude framework, it became much easier to communicate. He now prefaces big ideas with, "I'm talking at 50k feet here," which puts me at ease, understanding I don't need to make this happen right now. When I talk in specifics, I preface with, "I'm on the ground trying to figure out how to make this happen."
I live on the ground, but I'm also adept at 50k feet... I just need a plane ride to get there :) Now when I need to be there, we set up meetings to act as containers for that kind of thinking. I let go of the need to ground things in reality, and brainstorm freely with him.
High/Low Altitude, Past/Present/Future, Why/How/What/What If are all good communication metaphors for understanding what's most important to someone. What metaphors have you found helpful at work for successful communication.