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Opinion or Fact? (Why it matters)

In Woody Allen’s film, Annie Hall and Alvy Silver go to therapy.  Each is asked how often they sleep together.  He replies “hardly ever, maybe three times a week”.  Her response – “constantly, I’d say three times a week”.

People often treat opinions as if they are facts.  They’re not.  Opinions are not right or wrong, they’re simply points of view.  It’s separating the two that sometimes poses the challenge.

We like to consider ourselves ‘informed’, basing our opinions on facts (or even ‘true facts’ as I recently heard one man utter, begging the question, “What is an untrue fact’?)  On the face of it, this is a perfectly reasonable approach.  In the case of Alvy and Annie, the facts aren’t in dispute – it’s their respective evaluations of “three times a week”.

In work and in life, we’re often frustrated by these kinds of arguments, conducting the same old rows again and again, not feeling we’ve made any headway.  So, whether today’s challenge is a colleague not pulling his weight, or children claiming your house rules aren’t fair, what do you need to do to move things forward?

Spotting the Difference

  • Bill: John’s a problem.  He uses every excuse in the book not to meet potential clients.  He’s supposed to be our salesman, but he’s afraid of customers. Maybe I should get rid of him.
  • John: Bill doesn’t support me.  I keep telling him the production samples aren’t what our clients want.  I only get one shot at making the pitch, so I can’t contact the prospect until everything is 100%.  It’s never going to change.

This is a classic example of Opinion vs Fact.  Both Bill and John have made judgements about each other’s motives.  Instead of accusations of “bad attitude” or feelings of “he’s out to get me” (opinions), they really could do with establishing the facts.

Doing something about it

What would happen if Bill and John had an evidence-based conversation?  Bill could ask “What’s stopping us from getting in front of more customers?”  Rather than say “The samples are wrong”, John could specify his requirements, and explain exactly why the current samples don’t meet them.

It’s at this point that a conversation can take place.  Perhaps John is over-reliant on the samples, or doesn’t understand the difficulty they present to the production team.  Maybe Bill and the team under-estimate their importance.  They have an opportunity to establish shared expectations about customer contacts and customer samples.

There might be a different way to find a customer solution.  A great way to find out is to ask, “What else could we do?” (Instead of individual customised samples, perhaps two generic samples would be enough to interest the clients, and the company could charge for bespoke samples.)

Next time you find yourself exchanging opinions rather than facts, remember Annie Hall, and separate the two.

PS. And when your teenagers tell you that they “hate” you because you “ruin everything”, take a deep breath (you’re the adult).  Even in the heat of the moment, you know that’s not true.  You’ve only a couple of more years till they grow out of it – and really, the fact is, they’d be lost without you.

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