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Dealing with Co-workers who Make Up their Own Facts

You're sitting in a meeting listening to a colleague share wildly different numbers related to a project. These numbers are nowhere near reality. Okay, now what?

In a healthy workplace culture, a heated debate will follow regarding the veracity of said numbers. No, that's not right. I have the correct data right here. Take. A. Look.

Perhaps this co-worker compares their data and concedes that they are, in fact, incorrect. Perhaps they simply didn't have the most recent numbers (hey, it happens).

But perhaps this co-workers sticks by their own facts and proceeds to double down on their (incorrect) data. In this co-worker's world, two plus two can equal five!

While we're having a national debate regarding truthiness in politics, it remains to be seen what impact a fact-free political culture could have on the average workplace. After all, if our elected leaders will no longer be held to the general facts, why should anyone else be? We can all make up our own facts in the post-fact workplace. The truth can finally be what we want it to be.

I want to believe that, as a petite person, I can find well-fitting pants in the tall section. I want to believe that I'm really a Fortune 500 CEO. I want to believe I can live on olives and chocolate ice cream. I want to be believe that I can fly like William Hung!

Simply because I want to believe these things, however, doesn't make them true. Fact: Mr. Hung can sing better than I can, and I have to face the music. We can sing and dance around the house in our underwear, but it doesn't make us Madonna. Never will. Take it away, Joan Cusack!

Our world is based on a large set of common facts, rather than bold assumptions. To what extent the truth may be bent in politics remains to be seen, but the good news is that we can deal with our fact-flouting colleague right here, right now before the next status update meeting!

Confronting Co-workers Who Make Up Their Own Facts
First, let's frame this post around our work peers instead of our boss, because dealing with a manager who makes up their own set of facts is a whole different kettle of socks. (No, it's socks, not fish. Haven't you heard?)

Also, let's keep this post focused on spreadsheets and data (e.g., cold, hard numbers) instead of matters of office politics, such as whether or not we were a few minutes late to work this morning. That said, here are five tips for dealing with co-workers who make up their own numbers-based facts:

1. Call them on it. Say, "Those aren't the numbers I have" and have your spreadsheet ready to show. Ask them to explain how they arrived at their numbers. Have them break it down for you and everyone else in the meeting. Be kind and professional, but don't back down. If this work team is going to be on the same page, then you all need to be working with the same numbers!

2. Listen for weasel words. Beware the colleague who presents data wrapped in phrases such as "It seems like" or "I really believe" or "I will assume" or "Some are saying." These are red flags as far as cold, hard numbers are concerned. You are quite sure their assumptions about last month's sales figures are incorrect, because we're talking about last month's numbers and we have the final data right here!

3. Double check your work. Shore up your numbers, have data in hand when you go into a meeting with this co-worker. Be ready to counter the co-worker who exaggerates the facts with real data and well-researched conclusions.

4. Know the difference between data. There are preliminary data where all the facts are not in yet, but everyone around the table must recognize that preliminary data are only a model. More data must be gathered to form solid conclusions. You can love your preliminary data, but don't marry it!

5. Rest assured the truth will come out. In the end, real data will always win. Reality has a funny way of destroying even the best wrong ideas! We have to listen to what the data are telling us, which may be far different from what we would like to believe. If the data are telling us we're wrong, then we must listen or pay a price. We can run for only so long on wrong data before it bites us in the ass. If you follow Tip #1, then you can decide whether or not to say: "I told you so, but you didn't listen."

Facts are facts, and we can't run from them forever. In business, cold, hard facts have a way of catching up with our business model eventually. A fact-based business is a well-run business, and that's just a fact.


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