This might sound like a rather existential title for a blog relating to people, but it's true (see what I did there?).
We may believe we are telling the truth, we seek the truth from others, base our beliefs on what we perceive as the truth, but in reality, there is no truth. Truth, like perfectionism, is a concept derived from a frame of reference, observation, or perspective. Something for which we as individuals and a humanity strive.
Over the centuries, even facts 'proven' by experts in their field have been disproved or brought into question after the discovery or revealing of new information.
Technology and the internet have created a whole other space where it can be difficult to discern truth from fiction, fact from myth, truth from lies, real from fake. And in all of these, the position is binary - it either is, or it isn't - it's a synonym, or an antonym. But what if it's neither? What if it is a bit of both?
In art and literature, the blurring of truth and lies has always been acceptable - historical records and figures blended into a fictional tale ("based on a true story"), 'real' images overlaid with imaginary scenes and creatures. Is it because in this domain we expect fiction and fantasy, whereas in 'real life' we assume that this will not occur?
So, how does this relate to the workplace?
Often at the heart of conflict, performance issues, and misalignment of expectations is a different 'truth'.
When we investigate issues and incidents in the workplace for our clients, we endeavour to give each party the opportunity to provide their side of the story. We seek to understand their truth. Commonly these perspectives differ and sometimes they are significantly different, even opposite. It is through gaining an understanding of the differences that we can try to reach a conclusion as to the 'truth' - a balance of probabilities decision - which is normally somewhere between the 'truths' conveyed by the parties.
And usually the parties are not lying, it is simply that their truth is based on their perspective, grounded in their belief systems, and influenced by the experiences in their life, and they believe everything that say is the truth.
This can be particularly evident in bullying claims where, for example, a victim thinks that a comment or behaviour by the alleged perpetrator was targeted and intentional, and the alleged perpetrator doesn't see the issue and thinks the victim is raising the complaint to create issue for them due to a reason such as jealously, vengeance or as a strategic act to take their job.
As an investigator in a matter of conflict or dispute in the workplace, we must remember that we also bring our own 'truth' and may well be influenced by what we are told, observe or even the unsaid, and be influenced by past experiences; impacting our ability to find the balance in our conclusions.
Even in researching a quote for the post, 'untruths' were revealed. The quote:
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth”
was attributed to Marcus Aurelius on a popular Facebook page, yet was disputed by AAP Factcheck as not being something that Aurelius would have said and therefore, they argue was not correctly accredited.
Create the basis for facts
To assist in the workplace, organisations should create some 'facts' to base decisions and actions upon. This can be achieved by having a clear people framework made of components such as:
Company Values, underpinned by the behaviours that as a team you can agree are representative of what modelling these Values looks like.
Policies and procedures that set clear guidelines about ‘what good looks like’ with regard to actions and decisions by your people.
Set methods and record custom and practice that documents ‘what we do around here’.
Seek feedback regularly from your people, both individually and as a whole, to understand what is working and what needs improving, what is understood and where confusion or ambiguity exists. This also encourages the leveraging of the diversity within your organisation.
Use the opportunity of ‘fresh eyes’, whether someone new joining the organisation, or an external person looking in, to help the organisation to establish how the culture and practices are being read and received. Sometimes we can’t se the forest for the trees.
A clear framework of ‘facts’ makes it much easier to ascertain whether someone has done the 'right thing' or not; whether someone fits the organisation; and what, if anything, needs to change.
As a leader, it is better to point to an organisational writ or standard, than to feel that you must impose your own beliefs about right and wrong, and true and false.
The grey areas
Whether you are conducting an investigation into a workplace incident, issue, complaint or dispute; or simply having a feedback session with one of your team, it is important to remember that human communication, thoughts, feelings and behaviours are not black and white. There are many shades of grey (way more than 50, in case you were wondering).
You can use the ‘why’ method to delve deeper. Each time the person says they did or said something, or someone said or did something to them, you can ask them a ‘why’ question, such as:
What prompted you to say that?
Why did you do that?
Why do you think they did/said that?
What were you hoping would happen by you saying/doing that?
Why do you think that was the right/wrong thing to say/do?
Often it is in exploring the grey areas that we can better understand another person's truth.
And while your truth may not necessarily be my truth; endeavouring to understand and respect your truth helps us reach a compromise and resolve issues that undermine collaboration and constructive communication.