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The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

Investigation 6th April 2016

What is the whole truth? Do we ever see it, or just a ‘best guess’?

Every day we make judgements on the information available to us: some are as simple as, “it’s raining, I need to take a jacket”, some are more challenging, such as when carrying out a grievance investigation. We each see our “version” as the truth, but I believe that our versions are merely a slice of the whole picture.

This video of The Guardian’s Advert in 1986 – ‘Points of View’ shows this nicely.

When we are looking at a piece of information, a statement from a party or a news article, do we stop and think about what else is going on around this information, and when do we accept information as a true fact?

Truths – facts, opinions, views and half-truths

As a mediator, I find that parties tend to form opinions and judgements and then believe these to be facts, and working with parties to get to the bottom of these views can be fraught. So how do we get behind views and opinions, to the fact of the matter?

  • Fact: a thing that is known or proved to be true
  • True: in accordance with fact or reality, accurate or exact
  • Opinion: a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge
  • View: a particular way of considering or regarding something; an attitude or opinion

Getting yourself in the right place to be fair, neutral, and robust

We have to be self-aware and have emotional intelligence when working with others, whether we are holding a difficult conversation,  mediation or investigation interview. Awareness of how we might discriminate, or work from unconscious bias is key in order to acknowledge our own prejudices and know how those prejudices may affect our emotional responses. We need to ensure that we do not react instinctively.

And when it comes to challenging the validity of information, we need to be clear of our intentions, and if needed, make those intentions known to the parties, rather than using “impartiality” as a cover for avoiding the challenge.

Engaging parties builds rapport and increases valid facts

Using “soft” skills to engage parties is a well-known way of rapidly building rapport and confidence in the process.  Once a party can confide in you, they will naturally be more open and more likely to tell you the truth, rather than using half-truths to protect or defend themselves.

  • Active and reflective Listening: to draw people out, avoid pre-judging and build rapport
  • Clean Sheet listening: treating every situation as though you know nothing
  • Accurate and appropriate questioning and summaries: make sure you understand the situation how the party sees it

Assessing evidence of “facts” and “truths”

If it is appropriate for your role, is then up to us to analyse and link the information gathered about the situation and create a fuller picture using our own “good judgement”.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

So, in summary, don’t judge at a glance – take time to assess different information from different sources to accurately judge a situation or statement to be truthful, whilst upholding your own integrity and neutrality.