That’s a Fact, Jack: Emphasizing Facts in Conflict Resolution

I love facts. As a lawyer, mediator and an arbitrator, I so very much love facts! I love and respect facts because they’re elements of the whole cloth of truth. For example, the temperature gauge outside my window reads 76 degrees. If I read the thermometer correctly, that’s a fact. See the difference between that and, “I feel as though it’s 76 degrees outside”. That is not a fact — that’s a feeling. Where I am going with this is that one needs to be able to identify and rely on relevant facts when resolving conflict. Feelings change — facts don’t.

Fact Finding – Secrets of Resolving Conflict

Yes, yes, I know that feelings are important, too. But not in this particular post. Here, I’m advancing the beauty and wisdom of facts. It’s important because: 1) many people cannot distinguish the difference intellectually; 2) just like assumptions which lead to false premises, ignoring or misconstruing the facts in a situation can quash any resolution; 3) the facts are signposts of the truth and can make or break a person’s credibility, a lawsuit, or the resolution of a conflict.

The Facts, Ma’am, Just the Facts….

Let’s start with the first. In order to prove the viability of my supposition that many people cannot separate facts from feelings, try engaging in a political discussion with someone on any subject relating to politics. Make sure that you are prepared by having some salient facts at your disposal. Watch how quickly the dialogue disintegrates into a discussion of feelings. “It’s not fair that…” or “How can people live like that?” … or “The big oil companies want us to suffer”. If you interjected some facts into the discussion at various intervals, you might either be perceived as a savior or an interloper. Many people don’t like facts that run contrary to their feelings. By the way, the discussion doesn’t have to be political. Virtually any subject where facts are involved will do.

Facts Are Forever

As to the second, when you ignore the facts or relegate them to less importance than feelings, you are pulling the rug out from underneath yourself, to coin a phrase. In a conflict setting, clear, competent dialogue is all-important. [No, Dear, not at 2 AM when you’re out alone and are being followed — run!] If you’re focusing on feelings rather than the facts your chances of a resolution that will stand the test of time are greatly diminished. In part this is because feelings are transitory — they change — while facts do not. If the fact is that I was born on April 1, that will always be a fact. Fifty years from now it will still be a fact. Nothing will change it. Even if I lie about it, it will not change the fact itself. Facts are immutable. That’s the beauty of them!

People of the Lie

In my career, I have the opportunity to listen to hundreds of people from all socio-economic, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious and gender categories tell me their “truth”. They either were giving sworn testimony (under penalty of perjury) in a trial, arbitration or deposition, or they were telling their story in a mediation. In all cases I have listened very carefully to what they have said. In many of the instances, the underlying facts of the situation did not support their testimony. What I mean is that the facts were contrary to what they had said. In some cases, the facts had been changed or altered to “support” their version of the events. And in some cases, the facts lined up perfectly in connection with their position or directly supported their testimony. Once again, a clear grasp of the relevant facts is undeniably helpful in making evaluations or assessments of credibility, circumstantial evidence, or even interpretation of direct evidence. It is critical in engaging in the dialogue that is necessary to resolving conflict.

There’s an old saying in the law biz: If you have the facts, argue the facts. If you don’t have the facts, baffle ’em with bull____. While I won’t comment on the ethics of this adage here, I will say this: whoever invented it knew the importance of facts.

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