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Why it's so hard to accept the facts...

This blog is not about the result of the US elections, global warming or cybersecurity…it’s about day-to-day situations.

I am pretty sure that we all have experience of conversations or meetings about a given situation where you fail to achieve common understanding. Result? Endless discussion, disappointment or even conflict and no progress. We are often called into situations like these to facilitate and work towards a solution. And when we facilitate, people ask: When you guys do this it seems so easy and obvious, why couldn’t we do it ourselves?

I was triggered by a (Dutch) article by the Sociologist Arlie Hochchild about the ‘truth’, facts and feelings. I found this quote from his article particularly interesting:

“People are very conscious of the...situation. They aren’t crazy. But for them the facts are simply less important than their feelings...It doesn’t matter if the feelings are based on facts, are justified or that others agree or not: This is how they feel and that’s the most important”.

Inspired by this article I’ve listed 3 things which you can start using tomorrow:

1. Understand Maslow hierarchy of needs

Maslow was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It was the result of fifty years of research trying to understand why we humans do the things we do.

Why it's so hard to accept the facts 2.jpg

The picture explains the theory briefly. The first four levels are considered deficiency or deprivation needs (“D-needs”) in that their lack of satisfaction causes a deficiency that motivates people to meet these needs. The highest level is self-actualization, or self-fulfillment. Behavior in this case is not driven or motivated by deficiencies but rather one’s desire for personal growth and the need to become all the things that a person is capable of becoming.

Maslow's theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs. In other words: people can address higher needs only when their lower needs are being met.

On the other hand the human mind and brain are complex and have parallel processes running at the same time, thus many different motivations from various levels of Maslow's hierarchy can occur at the same time.

The model gained a lot of resonance with marketers because the model helped them to understand what motivates people to try and buy things. You can also say that the lower levels in the hierarchy have an emotional/unconscious orientation while the top level is more rational/conscious. Think about this for a moment and ask: What’s the reason I do the things I do? What motivates me and how much do I understand what motivates the others?

‘Acceptance of facts’ is at the top of hierarchy which partly explains why it’s often so hard to accept the facts and solve problems effectively

  • When one of the D-needs isn’t satisfied people are more motivated to fix these first.
  • Imagine climbing a mountain and reach the peak. It takes a while to reach the top level and how long do you stay there?
  • Being fully conscious and focused on Self-Actualization takes a lot of energy and the amount of energy is limited.

2. Separate facts from opinions

‘Why is it so hard to accept the facts?’ assumes that we understand the concept of facts because the question ‘Why is it so hard to accept opinions?’ is a different cookie. When you ask the difference between facts and opinions you will get a lot of different answers and probably most people never thought about it, or we forgot about it.

Why it's so hard to accept the facts 3.jpgA practical definition: A fact is a statement that can be proven true or false with evidence, for example: “Winter follows autumn”. An event that happened in the past or something that already exists. An opinion is an expression of a person’s belief or judgement and thus cannot be proven with evidence, for example “Summer evenings are nicer than winter evenings”. Opinions can be based on facts or emotions and sometimes they are meant to deliberately mislead others (i.e. in politics). However most of the time people mix facts and opinions unconsciously. How can you in easily distinct between the two?

Opinions are often preceded with terms such as “I think” or “I believe” or with adjectives, comparatives and superlatives like ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘stupid’ etc. When you want to know if the statement is a fact, you only have to ask: “Where do you got your information from?” or “What evidence do you have?”. 

You might run into situations where people get irritated when you ask for (more) evidence. Hold on! Keep asking until you have to conclude "we don’t know and want to find out" or accept that it’s not a fact but an opinion. Everyone has the right to an opinion and you don’t always have to agree with that opinion. It could even generate new insights and better understanding of each other.

Important note. There is an exception: Your feeling is your fact. It can’t be proven with evidence or science. We can try to understand and acknowledge the feelings and talk about it but you should never argue about it. 

3. MTV – Make Things Visible

Did you ever had disagreement about the meaning of someone’s drawing (other than the quality)? Or when you receive driving directions, what do you prefer: someone’s explanation or a map combined with visual cues? During meetings and normal conversations, most of the time words work fine. But communication would be much easier if we actively visualise our message.  Your brain works with both words and images. Your memory automatically combines words with images and when we don’t see a picture our brain will develop one based on experience or on imagination.  But until you actually show it you can’t be sure if everyone has the same  picture in mind.

Why it's so hard to accept the facts 4.jpgWhenever something is not clear or you feel there is disagreement with the perspective of , endless discussion coming up: MTV. It doesn’t always have to be a drawing, it could also be a sentence, some key words, symbols, etc. Recently I was in a meeting and people were talking about “the problem”. While listening to the individuals, I noticed they were talking about 3 different issues at the same time. I wrote a problem statement on a flipchart and immediately everybody was talking about the same subject.

With active drawing the energy is focussed on the creation of a shared image. You don’t have to be Michelangelo and you can always start again after a first attempt.  So here’s the idea: draw by hand because the hand is mightier than the mouse. And it’s much faster! In most places pen & paper or flipcharts/whiteboards & markers are available. If not? Buy them.

For more inspiration on making things visible:

Got a wicked problem? First tell me how you make toast by Tom Wujec

Growth explained with Ikeas Boxes by Hans Rosling

Or join a facilitator training with us and learn much more :-)

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