Early in my career, and before GPS was readily available on a phone, I got lost on the way to a client. So I did what only a desperate man would do: I stopped and asked for directions. One hour later I finally arrived at my destination. You see, the directions I received from the individual at the gas station had a tiny flaw: I was told to turn right at an intersection when I should have turned left.
Bad information, by way of a false statement, can have a damaging impact – far worse than showing up late for a client meeting. Especially when you use that information to make a critical decision.
Sometimes people make statements or claims, in a conversation, a meeting, a presentation – that are false. This isn’t always malicious and can be a false assumption on their part. However, there are cases where people are actively seeking to misrepresent or flat-out lie for their own benefit.
In the workplace, taking what someone said to be true – when it isn’t – can hurt you, your career, your team, and your organization. You need a way to quickly validate if what you are hearing is accurate.
(Movie trailer voice) In a world…of unverified statements
There is a way to help guard against these erroneous statements. Here are three questions to ask when you suspect one might be lurking in the conversation (or PowerPoint presentation):
- What do you mean by that? – This is where you clarify the statement and seek to understand what is truly meant. Sometimes you have to ask this question several times to get to the root meaning.
- Where did you get the information? – Now that you know what is meant by the statement, you can ask what information they have to back it up. Checking the source is important. Sometimes you find the statement is only backed up by an assumption.
- How do you know that information is correct? – This is to make sure the source is sound and reliable. Second and third hand information is dubious at best, and destructive at worst. The National Enquirer is different from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Look in the mirror first
You aren’t immune to making false statements – either intentional or by accident. So don’t let yourself off the hook. Practice these questions on yourself. Get comfortable with having an internal dialog challenging things you just assume to be true, and be prepared to be honest when you find a false assumption.
Bull in a china shop
These questions are not designed to be used in an arrogant or belligerent way – it won’t get the results you want and people will just think you are a jerk. You have to gently and sincerely ask these questions in a conversation with the goal to find the truth. Keep in mind: when you challenge a statement or claim, you are the bull in their china shop. So tread lightly and make sure to practice the questions on yourself first!
Okay, don’t use this one unless you are really good with people – because this can be taken wrong. Sometimes, you need to pull out the final, false statement crushing question:
- What if you are wrong? – This is used to directly challenge the statement by thinking through the ramifications of accepting that something is true or certain – when it isn’t. Be sure to use this with yourself too.
Bold, to be sure. However, when the stakes are high and company altering decisions are being made, this is a good one to have in your pocket.
What do you think? How do you verify what someone said is true?