“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)
Cross-examination is a key element of our justice system. A lawyer can craft a compelling story, peppered with supporting evidence, that appears to reveal the hidden motive of the defendant and their role in perpetrating a crime such that the jury is ready to drag the accused to jail themselves. This certainty often fades when the defense attorney rises and tells an equally compelling but different story, disputes the prosecution’s use of the evidence and perhaps reminding the jury of evidence that casts doubt on the prosecution’s case, and presenting another interpretation of the defendant’s life that either justifies their action or disputes their involvement. The jury mentally puts down the torches and pitchforks and cautiously considers what the truth could be.
The American adversarial judicial system prevents the problem highlighted in the proverb. Our passions can be ignited by one side of the story leading to regrettable actions because we neglected important facts. What seems like an obvious course of action built on logic leads to serious and expensive tactical mistakes. It is easy, but lazy, to defer to a confident and knowledgeable person when we should react with skepticism and due diligence. The person may be correct but they should be proved correct.
People make poor decisions in their personal finances and business by falling for well-designed sales presentations and advertisements. Many people have timeshares and other “investments” (Beanie Babies) that they cannot unload because they succumbed to the logic and appeal of an inspiring presentation, time pressure (“this deal ends today”), trusted a salesperson and organization they didn’t really know, and they didn’t read the agreement. The best salespeople and sales organizations are trained in psychology and use this knowledge to design the pitch. I’m not criticizing the approach but reminding you to be aware that the car salesperson and telemarketer has been trained with many crafted scripts to address our concerns, questions, and rejections. They have an answer for everything that will appeal to your pride, anxiety, and insecurity. I’ve been through sales training where you are taught to create and then solve FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
I am not anti-sales. On the contrary, sales is what drives the economy and starts commerce. Through sales we learn of products that we really need that we didn’t know existed, medications that can help us with serious issues, and solutions to problems we want solved. However, in most cases there are multiple solutions or products that can fulfill our need and we do not need to “buy now.” Buying from the first pitch without considering what another vendor has to offer or listening to another expert who highlights potential issues with the initial offer is foolish. More information will help clarify your needs, evaluate what is really offered, and provide insight on alternative products and solutions that may be a better fit or help you negotiate a better deal.
The wisdom of the proverb will also help us with conflict in the workplace and our private lives. A manager or friend will be approached by a person who is having problems with another person. They will weave a tale of unfair treatment and unkind words and explain situations that have caused this person distress. Being the good friend or manager you confront the other individual about their accidental or intentional injustice. You may be surprised and embarrassed when you find the person is offended and insulted by your accusations and tells a compelling story that counters the first person’s account, supplies important information the other person neglected to mention, and even has witnesses that supports their view of events. Far from solving a problem, you created a bigger problem that existed before and now you have a starring role in the drama.
Although we want to be a good leader or loyal friend, we must remember that one side of the story is always imperfect. It is usually foolish to get involved in another person’s disagreement though we can provide godly counsel to help them resolve the conflict. The other person may see the same situation differently. Our view is colored by many things: experience, worldview, age, gender, personality, and many more characteristics. We filter our view through these things and respond accordingly. If you must intervene because you are a manager, make sure you get lots of information, ask follow up questions, look for evidence or information that provides some clarity, then act in the way that seems appropriate to the situation. But don’t react to one side of the story.
Many business titans and successful people in many fields have a success myth. It comes out in interviews, is the subject of articles and books, and the person may even cite the one or two things that made them a success. Author Ryan Holiday begins his book “Ego is the Enemy” by telling his own success story then promptly reveals the important information left out that also contributed to his success and things that made him successful in one area that led to failures in another. He concludes by warning readers of CEO biographies and business success books that these stories, based in reality, are still myth. Important elements are missing. For every billionaire founder who skipped college and followed their passion to create a powerful company there are hundreds or thousands who followed the same path to poverty. We hear about the success stories but failures do not make headlines.
Glean what wisdom you can from success stories but realized that there are important nuances and situational differences that also contributed to the outcome. Perhaps they developed a product that hit at the right time, hired key individuals that contributed more to the success that is recognized, and had more luck than they are willing to acknowledge. You will not be able to mimic their success by doing everything they say they did. Someone can point out how they wrongly assessed the reason for their success, succeeded despite what they did, or how what led them to success in the past could lead to failure for them, or you, in the future.
The world is very complex though we desperately want it to be simple and will reach for simple solutions or obvious answers. But to be personally and professionally successful we must give kind attention to what we hear, but turn an investigative and skeptical eye to see what we are missing and what more we need to know. The story may be good, but wait to hear the other side of the story.