Ronald W. Pies is a professor of psychiatry in New York. He wrote an article in The Conversation back in March of 2017 entitled, ‘Alternative facts’: A psychiatrist’s guide to twisted relationships to truth.
It’s a timely topic for any time, but increasingly timely given how little culture seems to care about truth or facts. Opinions and feelings are the order of the day. A heightened radar for being offended is a prize possession today. We’ve taken political correctness to new extremes.
Here’s what Professor Pies writes in the article:
First, we need to make a distinction often emphasized by ethicists and philosophers: that between a lie and a falsehood. Thus, someone who deliberately misrepresents what he or she knows to be true is lying – typically, to secure some personal advantage. In contrast, someone who voices a mistaken claim without any intent to deceive is not lying. That person may simply be unaware of the facts, or may refuse to believe the best available evidence. Rather than lying, he’s stating a falsehood.
“You can’t handle the truth!”
Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, in the 1992 movie, A Few Good Men, shouts from the witness stand that famous line. It’s never been truer and in context than today. People seem to be unable – more like, unwilling – to handle the truth. So we fight back with lies and fake claims. Or we take issue with everything as “offensive.”
What’s the impact on our organizations, our businesses, and our leadership?
Plenty. And the cost is going to escalate. Our organizations mirror society. Whatever demons society battles find their way inside our organization. People are touchy. Dug into positions. Closed minded. Unwilling to listen. Not interested in understanding. Selfish. Proud. Conceited about their own knowledge and intelligence. The epidemic is well underway.
Situations are unique. It’s impossible to come up with some short list of solutions that apply universally. Life is too complex for that. People and circumstances have to be considered. And therein lies a big part of the problem. Our ability to read people and situations determines how well we can handle the truth. It can completely determine our vision and our blind spots.
We don’t know what we don’t know.
Increasingly, we don’t care either. Ignorance is bliss, but we feel our ignorance is superior knowledge. Greater wisdom. We’re right. They’re wrong. Period. End of discussion.
Mainstream news and politics are at the forefront of the nonsense, but it permeates every arena. It’s especially disconcerting for a guy like me who has committed emphasizing communication, connection, collaboration, and culture as the basis for higher human performance. The need has never been greater. Sadly, closed minds may have never been more rampant.
Our relationship and value of the truth – even if that truth isn’t absolute, but how somebody else sees a thing – determine our willingness to engage in the first of the four C’s that are my focus. Communication.
“Wait a minute! You don’t agree with me? Then I’ve got nothing to say to you and I’m sure not going to listen to anything you’ve got to say.”
That’s often our default. Lost along the way is the fine art of persuasion and influence, things we need if we’re going to move forward. I know we think of these things in terms of marketing and selling stuff, but we need them if we’re going to advance ideas and find better solutions. Persuasion and influence aren’t enhanced by being combative or closed minded (or both). They often go hand in hand. When’s the last time you had an encounter with a closed mind that was polite or kind? Yeah, me neither.
He says, “I’m not open to being persuaded. I’m dug in.” He’s proud of the statement. Gotta give him credit, he owns it. I’m quite sure it’s nothing to be proud of, but he feels the way he feels. His mind is like that proverbial steel trap. Nothing gets in. I’m not sure what’s getting out.
We’re not able to communicate. And if we can’t communicate, there’s no way we’ll be able to improve connection and collaboration, all the things needed to improve our culture.
Our relationship with the truth is so fractured, our unwillingness to listen so deep, that we’re mostly willing to shout at each other. The Twitter mindset doesn’t work in real life. It’s destroying organizations large and small as people come to the table with their minds made up, dug into their beliefs and fully committed to their blindspots thinking they don’t have any.
We’ll wrap this up tomorrow with part 2 of this, but for today I want to leave you with a few suggestions for you to consider – things you can begin to do today to get the ball moving in a more positive direction.
For starters, be the leader. Your employees will likely mirror your behavior and take cues from you. Be responsible.
Guage your own open-mindedness. Look closely at your relationship with the truth. Improve it.
Be honest with yourself. And with your organization. Are you prone to making up your mind before you give an audience to others? Are you listening only with thoughts of rebuttal? The sooner you recognize your biases, blind spots and assumptions, the better. Talk about these things with your leadership team. Admission of your humanity isn’t a bad thing. Don’t shy away from it. Few things will build greater trust as people see your willingness to admit you need to learn, understand and grow.
Lead the way.
Then, provide opportunities for your leadership team to do the work. Have meetings intended to foster diverse opinions and thoughts. Facilitate these meetings, not by imposing yourself, but by making sure everybody is fairly heard. Show the team how listening benefits everybody and gives the company the greatest advantage to find improved solutions.
Impose a few rules. Nobody interrupts. Everybody make good eye contact with the speaker. One good exercise is to have people summarize what they heard the person say. It’s a good way to improve listening.
It’s common in such exercises to ask person 1 to summarize what person 2 said. Then you ask person 3 to summarize what person 2 said. They’re often very different. Then open up discussion among the participants about what they heard and why they think what they heard was so diverse. It’s just one way of facing the communication problem head-on.
It’s also a great way to gauge how well we relate to the truth.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!