The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

When people speak about their experiences, they are invariably speaking about their perceptions, their interpretations of whatever they have experienced. Unless they are quoting someone’s actions verbatim they are placing their own interpretation upon the events.

On the surface there is nothing wayward in this; we are all storytellers of a sort. Under the surface is another story. Misperception and misinterpretation begat more misperception and misinterpretation.

Try this exercise. Ask a group of ten people to look at a scene through the same window. Then ask each of them to write down what it is they saw. You will get ten different interpretations of the same scene. Some will tell it exactly as it is, others will make a story out of what they have seen and others will mix both together as they form perceptions. All will likely swear that what they have witnessed and their interpretation is the truth.

There is only one truth and that truth rests in the facts. Our normal lives are not a courtroom; we are not being prosecuted or defended by lawyers seeking to win a battle. When we present anything other than the facts we hamper progress; we prevent people from making informed decisions and we fail to learn from our experience.

There is a time for story telling. There is a place for interpretations and perceptions and even speculation – so long as these are not presented as facts – as the truth. In reality, they are nothing more than one person’s opinion.

The challenge for managers is that they are rarely presented with the facts, especially when trying to uncover the root cause of a problem. People assume positions, they each want something and they try to bolster their position with their story. Managers know this intuitively. A part of the problem is that managers, while accepting this behaviour takes place, tend to spend time demanding to know why it is people are taking such positions. This is a waste of a managers time.

Instead the manager should focus on getting to the truth. The root cause of the issue. This requires the manager to ask lots of questions. Not just the who, what, when, why, where and how questions but also more insightful and exploratory questions. It involves the manager in listening more than talking.

The truth rarely comes out in the first attempt. It may require a number of these probing, exploratory conversations before the real truth be known. After each conversation, take time to step back and reflect. At the end of an exploratory conversation, or even a confrontational conversation is not the time to make a decision. You need to create time to assemble the information, assess the data, get a sense for what feels right and what doesn’t feel right and for what information you are still to obtain.

Managers should not be afraid of learning the facts. Others may not want to tell the truth, for their reasons; the manager needs to find the truth and should keep searching until the truth is known. People respond positively to facts and to the truth. Even when it becomes obvious that their interpretations were effectively a mistruth (read a lie), given a safe environment they will respond in a positive manner.

As a manager, you only need search for the truth once to show others that is how you plan to lead. Once others have seen you take the time to learn the facts, before jumping into decision mode, then they will be more likely to bring the facts to your attention next time, rather than hiding behind perceptions and interpretations.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

Let The Journey Continue

John Coxon


About John Coxon

Principal consultant for John Coxon & Associates, a management consultancy working with boards and management teams in healthcare, aged care and not for profit organisations to develop effective strategic planning processes and social enterprise business plans
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