The Data Doesn’t Look Right…

I haven’t written for a few weeks. Not sure if you missed me but I missed writing. I can only go so long without it.

So this Saturday afternoon, I had to go for an urgent meeting! But before that, I needed to find a place where I could leave my son for a few hours. None of his friends were around so I had arranged to leave him with friends –  where there would be no children his age. The arrangement wasn’t landing right with him.

While we walked to the friends’ home, he kept asking what he would do for the time I was gone.

He said, ‘mum but there will be nothing to do.’

I said, ‘what about you draw something?’

‘No, that’s dumb!’

I said, ‘why don’t you surf the net and plan the Cardiff trip?’

He said, ‘no, I will do that with you.’

I said, ‘what about you watch some TV?’

He got annoyed.

‘No, you just don’t understand!’

I knew where this was going. I felt slightly bad leaving him but it needed done.

After making a few more suggestions, I said to him, ‘I have offered five ideas and you’ve shut them all down. Considering you understand this better than me, do you have any ideas?’

He got even more annoyed and said, ‘Why can’t you just come back by 12.30?’

As I had thought, there was a lot he could have done and it was just that he didn’t want to accept the facts. It might be easier for him if the data fell in line with his belief.

‘I could lie and say that I will be back by 12.30 p.m. but I want to be honest with you. All I can say is that I will come back as soon as I finish.’

This was difficult! I went anyway.

Although I was quite late returning, we still made it in time to watch the Arsenal game at 3.00 p.m., stopping en route to get chicken and chips!

We all know of similar conversations that take place when we work with stakeholders, bosses, customers or even when we work with ourselves e.g. when trading stocks the conversation is with our inner selves can get quite intense.

The next time that happens, there are two key positions you might like to consider: 

1. Your view on how things should be:

Ray Dalio says in his book, ‘Principles’ that we often get hung up on our view of how things should be, and therefore miss out on learning how they really are!

I’m sure we have all seen situations where we enter a conversation having already formed a view e.g. ‘there is only one way to solve this problem and I know what that is…’ and then spend the rest of the time, searching for nuggets of information that can help validate our view.

Subconsciously, we shut down all other information only to look for what we want to hear. Think of all the times we reflect on an event and wonder how we missed information that was staring in our face, all we had to do was look. Sometimes, we may even have chosen to look away!

2. Your presentation of how things are: 

Let’s face it, no one likes to bear the bad news and sometimes, we hold the information and need to present the truth. We know that this could make us very unpopular and expose us to reactions we don’t want to witness. We will be vulnerable if chose to speak the truth and vulnerability demands tremendous courage!

When relaying information, we sometimes project the data in a manner that distorts the truth yet it is factually correct- think fine print, exclusions and omissions. Doing it that way saves us and also helps us justify (primarily to ourselves) that we didn’t actually lie. As they say, there are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics. 

Most of us know how to arrange data so it tinkers on the edges of the truth yet only few of us are authentic enough to call out something that we know will not be well received. Of course context is key because sometimes, the truth said at the wrong place and the wrong time can do more harm than good. E.g. it may impact confidence, cause panic, etc. Therefore, there will always be a place for context, judgment, compassion and sensitivity.

I have to admit, my sensitivity as a mother meant that I was saying what I could to comfort him while remaining truthful. I said that there was no way I will make it before 1.00 p.m. though I knew that this was more likely to be nearer to 2.00 p.m.

So although speaking the truth is harder in the moment, it is often the more sustainable option e.g. in our case, it will help us build a trusting parent child relationship.

In a corporate sense, there are other added benefits which are not always immediately apparent. Not only will it drive the right culture and increase trust, it will also help drive the right decisions and thus ensure that resources  are deployed sensibly. I could go on. We all know of failed projects that should have been called out months ago (if not years) and elephants in the room!

So then the next time when the data doesn’t look like you might like it to be, consider these two techniques depending upon whether you are receiving the data or relying it.

  • When receiving information, before you vent at the data or the messenger, assume for a moment that you are wrong and the data is right. Then look again.
  • When relaying information, I invite you to think big and be courageous. Only for a moment, remove yourself from the situation and think through the consequences on culture, cost, people etc over time. Then, do the right thing.

I hope you found this useful.

Have a great week.

Professional Speaking Association


EMCC – Senior Practitioner Coach

Accredited Coach



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