The one with the single version of the truth

If like me you studied biology in school you will likely remember the Kreb’s cycle. It’s a rather nifty process through which the body converts sugars into more accessible forms of energy. At the age of 15/16 I could likely have drawn the Krebs cycle blindfolded and tell you how many molecules of ATP were formed at the end. I can’t anymore.

Fast forward a few years and I was University studying Biochemistry and on getting into a discussion about the Krebs cycle during a tutorial all that I held to be true was dispelled with one comment from a Professor who shared the truth that what we had been taught at school was “a simplified version to enable you to pass your A-Level”. I was crushed and soothed my angst with some glucose diluted in strong continental lager. The more we continued with our studies the worse it became in that there were very few absolutes but many theories, speculations, conjectures and a myriad of things still unknown.

Once I joined the world of work life reverted to a ‘school Krebs cycle’ kind of mode. Opinions of others in the organisation were generally based on those of my boss. Firstly, because I didn’t really have much to benchmark them against, secondly, because I didn’t really trust my own judgement and thirdly because most serious interactions with others outside our team were generally initiated by my boss. Life was easy.

Then I started working in recruitment and my opinion was suddenly part of my trade. But (and there had to be a but) what made it easier was I wasn’t actually providing judgement, I was providing a viewpoint in response to requests for data (interview questions) and then allowing other people (initially clients and latterly line managers) make decisions. Life was slightly more complex but still relatively easy.

As my career has progressed I realise (and mostly with reflection) that my ability to form a view point on other people is probably one of the key elements of my role and here’s where life gets so much more difficult. There is not right and wrong there is only the subjective reality (or as some like to refer to it opinion). I have written before about the confidence required to express your own opinion here and the vagaries of the winners and losers internally here but a conversation last week has made me think more about this and I realise a few things:

1. It’s important to control for emotion in the formation of your opinion

2. Context is of course important but in forming your own judgement experiment with different contexts – it may help you frame a situation/person differently

3. When listening to other people express their judgements realise that they are of course being subjective. Try and articulate (to yourself) the factors that will have driven the formation of that opinion

4. Remember that everyone has good days and bad days…and so do you!

5. Act within your own personal values and the values of the organisation in how you enact your opinion

6. Be prepared to accept new data and allow that to impact your judgement (there are very few hills to die on)

7. Realise that at times your opinion may be a lone voice – that doesn’t make it wrong but it may make expressing it a courageous act

8. Understand that your opinion has value and so do other people’s. Treat theirs with respect and expect them to do the same

9. I know this is a values point but it’s worth expressing – don’t be a conniving political snake (technical term) in how you express your opinion

10. If you want to know someone elses opinion of you, ask them but be prepared for some home truths

Despite the fact that life is rarely easy and the transition to many versions of the truth has left it’s scars I think effectively managing your opinion, it’s impact and that of others is what makes what we do worth it. Otherwise it’s just a holiday spreadsheet….




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5 responses to “The one with the single version of the truth

  1. Great blog. It reminds me of a formula:

    E + R = O > Event + Response = Outcome.

    It also reminds me of the book – Time to Think in which listening comes through strongly as key in creating time to think, evaluate and ultimately, respond.

    Of all the points you raise, the ability to objectively and constructively engage with people who’s judgement you question or vice versa seems to elude a significant number of people in business. We either approach someone else (conniving political snakery), respond inappropriately (emotional tomfoolery) or say nothing.

  2. Michael Maynard

    Yep – great blog. I’m reminded of the simple yet profound quote from the lovely actor Alan Alda, “Real listening is the willingness to let the other person change you.”
    I try and check myself out on a regular basis.

  3. A most intriguing post thanks, and a useful list that I’m stuck in jst a couple of places on.

    Controlling for emotion interests me. Sounds a bit odd, probably a bit necessary, and if overdone there is a danger we lack authenticity perhaps?

    If your personal values and those organisational values resonate or harmonise then it is quite straightforward to enact your opinion within them both. Sadly – many organisational values are little more than wallpaper, and crappy wallpaper at that. Bland stuff that people oftne don’t relate to, so I would push back and say whilst desirable, I’m unsure how this would work for a lot of people?

    Cheers for stirring the grey matter up.

    • Thanks for the comment Doug.

      Just thinking through your challenge… I very deliberately wrote ‘controlling for your emotions’ rather than straight controlling of your emotions as I believe there are times when being driven by your emotions is completely the right thing to do. I think from my perspective at times my person emotional reaction has driven me to form a skewed opinion that is of little use to myself, the individual or the organisation. For me it’s be aware and decide how you want to allow that to impact

      As to the personal vs. org values thing I completely agree and it’s one of the moments where you have to look at yourself in the mirror and ask ‘can I change this?’ and if the answer is no, then move on (or start your own business!!)

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