In my experience, communication is the number one problem that businesses and people deal with on a daily basis. And no matter which client I’m working with, the situations that they are dealing with always have a mix of facts and opinions. The problem is that the opinions are typically fictional stories that have been 100% accepted as true. This routinely causes a multitude of missteps and negative decisions and behaviors that could have been avoided if only we focused on the facts first.
“If you are going to make up a story, at least make it a good one.” LZ
We are too quick to choose the first negative story we can create. In a prior blog, I discuss a model for how this works, entitled “The ladder of inference”. You can read more about it there, but for now I’ll just highlight a few steps you can use to prevent putting your foot in your mouth the next time you make up a story.
4 steps to take before you take action
1. Lay out all of the facts. Make sure they are FACTS. These are the actual things you have witnessed yourself and that you know to be 100% true.
2. Lay out the information which is part of ‘the story’. These are the pieces of information that you have added to the situation, based on your past experience or assumptions. These are not facts that you have witnessed and know to be 100% true.
3. Ask yourself what other possibilities might exist? What possibilities might there be if you assumed all involved had a positive intent?
4. Finally, make a decision about what additional facts are needed (if any) before you decide what to do next. Ask yourself:
- If my story is wrong, will my behavior or decision cause harm or further confusion?
- What would I do if I believed the most positive story I can imagine?
- How would I be different if I focused on the facts only?
Most importantly, make sure you are in the right frame of mind before you take action. If you feel enraged by an email, let it sit overnight before you respond. Take time to put the situation in perspective before you make a hasty reaction, instead of a thoughtful response.
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