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Volume 7  Number 5   |   May 2017


Definition: A figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in Cleveland won by six runs (meaning “Cleveland's baseball team”).

We're often mired in synecdoche, in that we mistake the actions of one person or one unit to be representative of the whole. Hence, we hear two people complain about a manager and conclude that "She must have relationship issues," when, in fact, the two people complaining are the ones exhibiting the problem.

We've seen this more recently with the United fiasco of dragging someone off an airplane to free a seat for a company employee. That was atrocious local decision making, but not the policy of United nor a mandate from its board of directors.

Why Does This Happen?

We're too eager to "jump to cause" in order to find a solution, and we (and the media) love to find those solutions in huge and general terms at high levels. On occasion that's true—Wells Fargo or Volkswagen come to mind. But usually what we're seeing is only what's in front of us.

If you trip entering a room, it doesn't mean you're clumsy, only that you tripped entering that room. If you find someone unhappy with the boss, it doesn't mean the boss is the problem, it only means that person is unhappy.          

Don't generalize from specifics when you're consulting or coaching. What you first see is not necessarily what you eventually will get.

© Alan Weiss 2017

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