Written by: Brian Smith
Original by: Communication World Magazine

If you are a pragmatic leader of a small or medium-sized business, you know that there are multiple sides to every story. This can become quite stressful when conflicts or other problems arise within your organization: Which side is correct? Which do you believe? Hearing and understanding each side of a story is vital to making good decisions and creating a consistent and successful work culture. There are a number of ways to create this culture by providing a consistent and pragmatic foundation.

If you have well-written policies and procedures, then you probably have a good structure in place for when issues arise. Without the foundation of policy and procedure, individuals in your organization will rely solely on their own beliefs, experiences or personal organizational skills to manage their daily areas of responsibility and influence.

Also, when policies and procedures are not in place, employees may feel they must solely rely on their own memory, which can complicate things; not having direction or any supporting foundation of policy and procedure can leave people feeling anxious and uncertain, which leads to inefficiency, poor work quality and inconsistency.

Another issue with a lack of structure is that we all have different ways to remember things, which is why stories aren’t always consistent between different individuals. Each individual has a unique perspective, influenced by their personal experiences.

To successfully manage issues that may arise, you must be an objective and pragmatic leader. This means you need to understand that there are at least three sides to every story.

1. The perspective of each individual involved

When problems arise at work, it is up to the leader to determine what the facts are. This can be difficult, as the perspectives of the individuals involved will vary. People don’t intentionally distort facts or bend the truth (or so we choose to believe); they will generally describe the events that transpired as they remember them, from their perspective. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but memories can often fail us. The greater the number of people involved, the more perspectives you may have to deal with.

2. The perspective of the individual hearing the stories

Your perspective as the leader hearing stories from your employees often seems to be the most important, which is why the stories from your team may be different. People tend to tell others what they want to hear, and this can distort issues and create difficulty for a leader. What you believe is very important. Your past relationships with these employees, among other things, will influence what you believe.

It’s important to keep this in mind and do your best to remain objective in each new situation. Take into account the history of past issues, how pragmatically your team is explaining these issues, and the team as a whole. You control how you perceive each story, and your ability to rely on structure and pragmatism in support of your team will stand out over time.

3. The truth

The problem with the truth is, how do you know what is true? Look for concrete evidence. Can you look over the numbers? Call logs? Appointments? Proposals? Contracts? Anything you can review, regarding the issue at hand, that has written, concrete evidence, will help lead you to the truth.

It is not an insult to ask people to back up their position; people who dodge or defer providing proper backup do so for a reason. It’s your job to find the reason as a leader. Having the proper key performance indicators in place before issues arise is vital; if you have these in place then variances will help you keep track more efficiently. Each metric should be unbiased, factual, measured, objective and true.

We all hope that all three stories could be the same. However, stories change each time they are told or each time we hear them. It is the leader’s responsibility to listen and gather all of the information being presented. You must sift through the details to find the key facts. These facts and figures then need to be pieced together to display what the true issue at hand is.

With so many different issues influencing managers, employees, vendors and customers, it’s no wonder stress levels at work are at an all-time high. By listening to each story told with a pragmatic attitude, and understanding these three perspectives, you position yourself to resolve any issue in a positive manner.