Just the Facts, Ma’am

Learn how to ditch the drama associated with the stories we make up about the people around us and about the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Remember Dragnet, the black-and-white television show from the 1950s? It was one of TV’s first detective shows, setting the stage for countless crime dramas with the stoic Sergeant Joe Friday and his insistence on “just the facts.” I believe we could all benefit from that simple reminder – to focus on facts alone and to take every situation at face value.


Instead, we have the tendency to speculate. We stray from the facts in any given situation and make up a story. An innocent email from a co-worker turns into a nefarious plot to keep us late at the office. A few quick phone calls from the boss become a pattern of distrust and micromanagement. We predict outcomes (usually negative) and base our actions on feelings rather than data. Instead of solving problems proactively, we suffer proactively.

Take Bob, for example, who recently received a meeting invitation from his new boss, Sandy. Listen to the difference between the facts and Bob’s version of the story.

The facts:
At 8a.m. Monday morning, Bob signed into his work email to find a meeting invitation from his new boss, Sandy. The description read, Let’s discuss work policies going forward. She had spent the past two weeks meeting with top executives and her team. Bob would be the last team member to meet with her one-on-one. The meeting was set for Friday afternoon.

Bob’s story:
Why am I the last person to meet with Sandy? Was she gathering intelligence against me? I know Greg holds a grudge against me, and he met with her last Thursday. He probably told her that I work from home too often. That must be why she wants to discuss work policies with me. Maybe she wants to fire me! She was probably hired to “clean house.” After all, layoffs are this company’s answer to everything. And why else would she schedule the meeting for Friday afternoon? That’s the perfect time to give someone the axe! I should start looking for another job instead of wasting any more time on this one.

Did you notice how quickly Bob’s narrative got out of control and blew the situation out of proportion? He received a simple meeting invitation, and immediately he concocted a story about a co-worker selling him out and his company conspiring against him. Within minutes, Bob was suffering so much from the fiction he created that he convinced himself to start looking for another job – and to blow off his current responsibilities. It could have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, if Sandy had caught him searching job sites during work hours.

Luckily, the meeting turned out to be a routine introduction in which Sandy spelled out her expectations. Bob was the final team member to meet with her because, with the last name Williams, his name appeared at the bottom of the alphabetical distribution list. She mentioned that she had heard good things about Bob from his co-workers, said that she looked forward to working with him, and apologized for the Friday afternoon slot – it was the only time she could fit into her busy new schedule.


If only Bob had stuck to the facts! He would have saved himself a lot of pain and suffering. The same goes for the rest of us. We could be a lot happier at work if we stopped editorializing and started making reality-based decisions.

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