The Problem With Facts

Whenever I hear the word facts, I cringe. What exactly is a fact?

If surveyed, I’m sure that the vast majority of people would answer that a fact is “something indisputable and immutable.”

Interestingly scientists rarely, if ever, use the word fact. They have hypotheses, theories and laws. Laws are theories that have held to be true over a broad array of testing, over decades if not centuries. There are few laws in science.

If I were to define “fact” using scientific thinking, I’d say that it is the best information available at this point in time. As new information surfaces we end up with a new set of facts.

So what does this have to do with confidence?

Confidence

Psychologically there’s a huge difference in what we experience depending upon the definition of fact we use.

If we are part of the majority that views facts as indisputable and immutable, we’re likely to have our world shaken as new information become available. Our natural tendency will be to resist the new information and its implications because it shatters our beliefs.

Conversely, those of us who use the more scientific inclination i.e. using the words hypothesis or theory to denote the transitory nature of knowledge (facts), find it much easier to embrace new information and accelerate movement forward. Indeed, new knowledge, its pursuit and application, excite people whose definition of fact is more scientifically oriented.

Given these extremes, which person is more likely to have his or her confidence enhanced? Shaken? Of course the person who views facts as immutable is more likely to lose confidence because something she believed deeply no longer holds true.

The person who views “facts” as transitory…changing every time new information becomes available…gain confidence because their beliefs are either being reinforced or replaced with expanded knowledge.

The final question I’d like to pose is “How can we use these new insights to help us become more effective in our communications?

Communication

One of the things I discovered is that I save myself a lot of grief when I avoid using the word fact. I found that when I used the word fact in a conversation, the other party would disagree with my facts and we’d both try to defend our positions while trying to convince the other person that they were wrong.

Conversely I’ve found that using the phrase “my experience has been…” instead of the word fact, I get less resistance. After all who can dispute “my experience.” In other words facts are disputable, experience is not.

Yes, the other person can say “That’s not been my experience.” But that opens the door to discussion of the various experiences each of us has had. Human beings are accustomed to people having different experiences. Therefore, differing experiences do NOT lead to defensive posturing. Instead, it opens the door to a dialogue that makes finding common ground much easier for both parties resulting in collaboration instead of competition.

For you

When you feel yourself inclined to say something is a fact, pause a moment before speaking. Then change the wording from “fact” to “my experience has been…” You’ll not only avoid creating resistance to your ideas, you’ll avoid hits to your confidence while opening the door to understanding and collaboration. Not bad for a small change in language.

For our kids

Teach your kids to think like scientists who know that all knowledge is transitory…that what we know today will, more often than not, change as we get new information.

Then teach them the trick of replacing “fact” with “my experience has been…” and watch their confidence grow.

Three benefits…avoiding resistance, greater confidence and embracing change…all from one small effort. What a wonderful gift to give the kids in your life.

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