A PRIEST was delivering his sermon to his congregation on what heaven would be like. He explained that there would be no money in heaven, because it would no longer matter. A little boy upon hearing these words, whispered to his mother, “Mom, it sounds like we are already in heaven.”
Another story: There’s a sign in one restaurant that reveals the harsh reality of work-life balance: “Our meals are the like the ones your mother used to cook for you —before she was employed by the call center.”
And one more: A new bride dutifully attempted to press the trousers of her husband’s branded new suit with an iron received as a wedding present. When she applied the hot iron, part of the trousers went up in a puff of smoke, leaving a small but gaping hole.
The groom rushed in from the next room. “Is everything all right?” The bride burst into tears as she tried to relate what happened. “Honey,” the groom replied, “let’s take it positively that my leg wasn’t in those trousers.”
We love these stories even if they appear exaggerated, incomplete, and untruthful. We enjoy them because they’re feel good stories. It accentuates the positive more than the negative. We use them to prove a case like what they do in religion, like Protestants and Catholics professing to have different interpretations of the Bible.
In business, when management prepares the annual report, you’ll be surprised on why it focuses only on what it has accomplished rather than what it failed to do. If ever they admit of their shortcomings, they are presented as “challenges” and magnify them as if they are insurmountable to ordinary mortals.
That’s why in hiring people, many smart managers would often ask a killer question to job applicants: “How do you deal with your handicaps? What are your weaknesses and what are you doing to reduce, if not eliminate them?”
In politics, the sooner that we hear a president delivers his state of the nation address, we often hear analysts and commentators telling us what he fails to consider in his annual speech.
But let’s make simple. In our everyday life, when buying a bunch of bananas from a supermarket, we choose the best that is free of bruises and dark spots.
That’s cherry-picking which is certainly evident and normal in our life. We choose only what’s easy to get and the best for us and whatever that advances our interest. On the other hand, we suppress, if not ignore any evidence that is against us or the organization that we represent, no matter how obvious they have become in the eyes of other people.
The proper attitude toward cherry-picking is objectivity. It’s one important virtue where you present both sides of the coin even if they’re not asked. Objectivity is an art. It’s a balance between personal interest and the majority’s interest. It’s about thinking too little of ourselves and thinking much of the greater good.
The more you pay attention to yourself, the more you must pay attention to others. That’s the trick, except that it’s a difficult trick. If you can’t master that trick, disaster could happen.
In Greek mythology, we read about Narcissus who was once walking by a river and decided to drink some water. Needlessly, he saw his reflection in the water and was immediately enamored by the beauty he saw. He became enthralled by the beauty of his own reflection in the water and refused to leave it until he died by the bank from his sorrow.
So how many of us are willing to declare something against our self-interest? In law, declaration against interest is acceptable and is an exception on the rule against hearsay. So to summarize all of this, the moment you’re confronted with a report or any statement that appears to be self-serving, you have to doubt it much and be ready to ask some killer questions designed to ferret out the other side of the coin:
What did we miss in your report, if any? What did you fail to accomplish compared to what you promised before? These two questions alone are more than enough to put a person on the spot. And if he’s brave to admit missing it in the report, then probe further by asking why it was ignored in the first place.
I’m telling you this: Questions are more important than answers. It’s better to ask provocative, revealing, and challenging questions than anything else. Everyone has a good story to tell, but only if you ask for it at the right time, when a person is not ready.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to email@example.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.