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Sunday, 5 June 2011

Forget The Story, Just Gimme The Facts, Man!

Some years ago when I was working as a specialist product sales engineer I had a call late on Friday from our Leeds branch manager with whom, to put it mildly, I didn’t get on.

He said, rather abruptly: “I want to see you in my office, 9.00am Monday morning – all right?”

It wasn’t a matter for discussion and I said that I would be there.  The rest of the weekend was pure hell.  I went through every possible scenario as to why he wanted to see me.  What terrible error had I made in his area?  Which of his major customers had I annoyed? Had he had enough of our relationship?
I went into what I now call negative logic which starts with the issue, then works out all the negative consequences finishing up with a quick leap off Beachy Head, this being the only logical conclusion to the story.
I arrived as demanded at 9.00am in Leeds (pre-motorway days) and my antagonist said :”Thank you so much for coming; I have a terrible problem with a customer and you are the only one who can solve it”.
I suppose that I should have felt pleasure at that but the sensation was largely one of felling foolish, some relief and irritation that I had wasted a great deal of emotion over the weekend.
So what is the point of the story?  Story is the relevant word, of course.  We tend, when presented with a problem of some sort, to look at the issue and weave stories around it, making assumptions that are almost always negative.
One of my Vistage group members and Vistage speaker in waiting, David Roberts, ran an excellent session recently using the Deming Red Bead Experiment as the basis.  In the debate following, he made the point that we make more of the stories around a problem when what we should do is just to consider the facts.
It demands a cold look at what is actually happening without making assumptions, probably negative, as to what might happen as a consequence.
There is, of course, value in assessing what options may be available as potential solutions as long as they are based on the facts of the case.
Remember Nigel Risner’s mantra – Event (fact) plus Response (fact) equals Outcome (likely fact).
Keep the stories for children’s bedtime, better.

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