Making decisions using the “Balcony View”

Timmy Duggan

During a meeting or in times of conflict and rumours, have you ever asked yourself 'What is really going on here?'. 

Are you able to maintain a level of composure in a hostile environment, or in one where a critical decision needs to be made?

Athletes and military personnel have the ability to observe and play at the same time. The ability to maintain perspective and stepping back in times of crisis or clogged scenarios is a reflection skill known as 'going to the balcony' or 'taking the balcony view', and it can be very useful.

The balcony may be an actual balcony, or it could be as simple as taking some time to gain a clearer perspective on the situation.

Picture yourself in an important meeting where a critical decision has to be made. Some decisions require you to get a clearer picture so you will need to 'go to the balcony'. In this scenario, you might move your chair back from the table to analyse. Or you might take a bit more time, and gain a different perspective to help make the decision. The key component is taking time to gather your thoughts.

Another key point with the balcony view is you are both an observer and a participant. You may have to go to the balcony and back into the meeting multiple times before you understand the context.  Going to the balcony gives you another perspective but it takes you away from the “battle”. This is why it is important to go back and forth from the balcony to interpret what is being said and what barriers to interpretation are in place.

The hardest part is reflecting on yourself and seeing yourself from the balcony. This is a high-level leadership skill - analysing and reflecting on yourself from the balcony.

The next time you are in a meeting or when a decision is being made, have some practice at using the balcony view.

Here are some key points regarding going to the balcony:

  • Strengthen your ability to take a step back and observe
  • You may have to go back on the “floor” to get another angle/perspective
  • You are a participant and an observer
  • Today’s decision may mean something different tomorrow
  • Watch the body language of others - who supports who, observe the pushing and pulling of decision makers
  • Observe your own actions; seeing yourself objectively as you look down from the balcony is perhaps, the hardest task of all.

This activity works really well in our group discussions during leadership courses, but it is also an activity you can reflect on and practise when you are negotiating or making decisions 

Ref: Harvard Business Review: A Survival Guide for Leaders 2002