The Fiction of the Matter


I was at a conference recently and I noticed more than one speaker mention “the fact of the matter.” Interesting. I suppose this is to distinguish it from “the fiction of the matter,” a side of many topics that is  common in communication but rarely identified as fiction.

We all deal with “the fiction of the matter” every day.  Misunderstandings, lies, deceptive practices, bluffs, withheld truths, incompetence, errors from laziness, and even our own filtered views of the world create fiction. We spend countless hours working through this fiction, whether it is intentional or not. No matter how hard we try, we also absorb some of it.

Politics, whether corporate or government, are filled with this fiction. And we usually buy into it, or at least some of it. Even if we suspect something is untrue, we may still respond with FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).  FUD often alters our behavior, even if we fail to notice it or acknowledge it.

For instance, in an election the negative campaigning leads many people to vote for the person they doubt the least, not the person they think will help the most.  This was the goal of the negative campaign and when we fail to do proper research, the default response is often to respond to the negative campaign out of fear or concern.  “What if those accusation were true?” we may think. This is FUD at work, even if we don’t notice it or choose to ignore our emotional response.

Where else can you easily spot this fiction? Resumes, job applications, bars, crazy relatives, spam, and chain letters are common sources. But there are many others that are sources that are harder to see. These require that you actually pay attention and think.

We all know people that we consider unreliable. And this includes what they say. The friend that volunteers that he’ll help you move but never shows (ever), the colleague that is always bumming a few dollars but forgets the pledge to pay you back, and the salesman that promises far more than is ever delivered. Maybe they believe what they say at the time. Or perhaps their cognitive distortions lead them to believe others “owe” them or that they must “defeat” others to feel good about themselves. The possibilities are virtually endless.

When you hear “fiction of the matter” how do you respond? Do you question it? Do you ignore it? Do you think you ignore it but really don’t?

More importantly, do you work to be sure your messages are the “fact” and not the “fiction” others will see? To communicate well, you must build trust and this takes time. It also takes effort to be reliable and consistent. Indulging in interesting but false information can become a bad habit and plants bombs that are often are left just waiting to explode.

Unless you are in the business of creating fiction for entertainment, do all you can to be sure your messages avoid “the fiction of the matter.”

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About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.