Separating Facts From Stories In HR Situations

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Separating facts from stories:

Whenever you’re dealing with people, there are facts and then there are stories.

Here are some examples of facts:

  • That guy’s been late to work three times this month
  • That lady didn’t say a word when I asked her if she’s had a good day so far while making her coffee
  • My wife sure closed the front door hard when she left this morning
  • That person never meets my eyes during management meetings

These are simply facts.  These events happen, and we take note.  They aren’t necessarily good or bad, just events that occurred.

Then (and here’s the cause of lots and lots of your HR pain) we turn those facts into stories.

And the stories are almost always negative ones.

Here are typical examples of the stories we make up to explain the facts:

  • That guy’s been late to work three times this month

Because he’s not engaged or reliable, and he really doesn’t care about this workplace.  Plus, he’s probably just a lazy dog like everyone else of his generation.

  • That lady didn’t say a word when I asked her if she’s had a good day so far

What a jerk!  Who does that?  Does she think I’m her SLAVE just here to meet her imperious whims?  Why not crawl off your throne lady and interact with the peasants now and then?!

  • My wife sure closed the front door hard when she left this morning

What now?  This house isn’t good enough for you?  You just leave for the day, mad like that?  The dishes weren’t done perfectly enough?  What?  Now I’m mad too.  We’re not separating facts from stories.

  • That person never meets my eyes during management meetings

What are they trying to hide?  Are they LYING?  Have they been sneaking around behind my back hoping I won’t notice their nefarious deeds?

Okay, I exaggerated to have a bit of fun, but just notice that most times the stories you make up to fit the facts are negative ones.  We’re machines at making negative assumptions!

The stories are often inaccurate.  Here are some alternate stories to fit the same set of facts:

Maybe late guy doesn’t realize that punctuality is important.  Or he needs to adjust his bus schedule.  Perhaps he has a sick child at home, or just needs someone to talk to him about being on time.  It might not be important to him, and some friendly coaching would clean the situation up.

What if non-talker lady just received a terrible health diagnosis?  Maybe she had a super close call in traffic moments before. Possibly she just received a terrible text from a friend?  The possibilities are endless.

Door closing wife may have caught a gust of wind just as the door was closing!

Eyes averted could mean a lack of confidence, a personal style issue, or nothing at all.

So don’t confuse facts with stories.  And when you’re drawing stories out of the facts, don’t make them negative or ungracious ones until you know for certain you’re right.

If you simply refuse to make negative assumptions, you’ll be a much happier person because you won’t be carrying around the weight of these assumptions that tire us and burn us out.

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Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at

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Written by Trevor Throness
Trevor is a veteran coach, keynote speaker, and the author of the book “The Power of People Skills” released by Career Press NY in 2017. He’s also written for or been featured in places like Forbes, Inc, The NY Post, The Globe and Mail, Entrepreneur, CEO Magazine, and numerous podcasts and interviews.


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