Is Your Workplace Full of Facts or Opinions?

You can find me most afternoons between 3:30 and 4:30 pm working on 2nd grade homework. While I work until the normal quitting time of 5:00 pm one to two days a week (thanks to grandparents), my schedule at least three days a week revolves around being done in time to pick up kids and start what often seems to be a harder job than what pays the bills- getting my 2nd grader through 2nd grade.

One interesting assignment he had in his homework packet a couple of weeks ago was to identify whether a list of statements was fact or opinion.  As I was preparing myself to explain the difference to him, I was surprised to find that he understood the difference much better than most adults.

Statements like, “It’s fun to run.”  that were on his sheet he easily spotted as opinion.   He said, “I like to run, but most people in my class don’t, so that’s an opinion.”  

He seemed to be better at looking at a statement from not only his perspective but the perspective of others to be able to decide if it was fact or if it was opinion.  Conversely, he knew that “There are seven continents,” for example, was a fact.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a General Manager who told me his team needed help with communication.  He said, I get people coming to me saying, “”Lisa is lazy.’ It drives me crazy,” he said, “when people come to me with statements like this.”

“I usually take a deep breath and then ask why the person coming to me thinks that,” he said.

To which, he said he usually gets a response even further from the facts like, “She is ALWAYS late!”

He said, “I just want people to come with to me with facts. For example, Lisa has been fifteen minutes late three times this week.  You can see that here on her timecard where she scanned in.”

“Can you teach people to do that?” he asked. “To just give facts and not opinions?”

Maybe some 2nd grade homework would help this team.  And in reality, an exercise of identifying a list of statements as fact or opinion might actually be a good exercise to incorporate into workplace communication training.

What I find though, is that the manager did something that I would recommend.  He asked a question to try to get to a fact and away from an opinion.   Opinions are usually emotionally charged and don’t necessarily lead us down the best decision-making path.   

So to start, if you find yourself in this situation as a leader, I would encourage you to ask good questions if you find yourself getting opinions instead of facts.  Many of the questions revolved around what my 2nd grader seemed to intuitively do, which is to get the person to think about a perspective other than their own.

In Daring to Lead,Brene Brown offers some good questions when she talks about building confidence through curiosity.   Some are:

“Tell me more.”

“That’s not my experience…” Tell me about yours….

“Help me understand…”

“Walk me through…”

“We’re both dug in.  Tell me about your passion around this….”  (I’m finding more and more that when I disagree with someone, we are just as passionate about the same thing, but approaching it through a different set of experiences, assumptions and/or personality. Getting back to the core passion can help mitigate the opinions, tensions and problems.)

“Tell me why this doesn’t fit/work for you.”

“What problem are we trying to solve?”

And this one is my favorite… “I’m working from these assumptions…. what about you?”

You see, we oftentimes need to actually understand people’s opinions through their own lens in order to help everyone get to the facts.  And pointing out someone is just stating an opinion usually leads us in the opposite way we are trying to get to.  By asking questions so that people realize that what they are saying is an opinion grounded in a set of personal experiences and assumptions often paves the way for the discovery of the actual facts.

How often do you get fact and opinion confused?

Mary Ila Ward

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