Student Voice


December 9, 2022




Detail vs. big picture, understanding fortifies relationships

December 2, 2011

Everyone has their own way of viewing the world and the situations they come across. Some focus on the big picture and greater purpose while others concentrate on the details involved in accomplishing a task. Most people fall in the middle somewhere, leaning slightly more one way than the other. However, some people are so detailed-oriented that they cannot see the big picture while those on the other end see only the main idea and forget the steps involved. No matter where a person lies on the continuum, it is important to understand how both perspectives work and the costs and benefits of each viewpoint.

People who see the big picture primarily see things as a whole, and then fill in the details later. If asked to paint a flower, someone with this perspective would paint the first layer of the entire flower, then paint the second layer throughout, then the third, and so on. A big picture person starts with an outline that allows them to see the entire concept before fleshing it out.

On the other hand, someone who is focused on the details would paint the flower one petal at a time. Each petal would receive the first, second, and third coats one right after the other until the petal is finished. Then the person would begin the next petal. Detail-oriented people know there is an ultimate purpose, but look only at the individual steps involved in getting there.

While both perspectives end with the same result, the processes are complete opposites. The methods of accomplishing tasks and viewing the world can cause a lot of conflicts in relationships if neither viewpoint understands where the other comes from. Furthermore, people must understand the advantages of the other view and the disadvantages of their own to come to a more balanced approach.

One advantage big picture people exhibit involves know- ing the purpose of their actions and feeling the drive that comes with having a goal in sight. However, these people sometimes miss integral details. In contrast, detail-oriented people pride themselves in being incredibly thorough; but, they can easily forget the purpose of their actions with no end result in sight.

A detail-oriented person needs to understand that a big picture person needs an explanation for why an action is be- ing done and how this action will bring him closer to the big picture goal. However, a big picture person needs to realize that a detailed-oriented person needs a step-by-step foundation before even considering the final result as possible. Above all, communication must occur. Whether or not one recognizes someone with the opposite mentality, understanding how and why a person acts a certain way is fundamental to establishing a strong, working relationship.

By recognizing how big picture and detail-oriented people approach life, people of opposite views can strengthen their relationships and come to an understanding. Both mentalities offer their own share of strengths and weaknesses which, when combined, can complement each other perfectly. But without listening to the person’s explanations and where they come from, frustration and confusion ensue. By simply opening one’s mind and seeking understanding, one can help others and oneself.

Jaime Haines is an exuberant puppy-lover and “House” addict and plans to use her psychology degree to encourage activism and well-being through counseling, workshops, speeches, and the written word.