When I wrote the first two posts under the Thrown Under the Bus series, I had additional content for other posts, but was challenged to develop more meaningful discussions. However, with additional thought and review on this topic, I was able to distill through a few pages of notes and references to create this post for Part 3, and have plans for at least two more posts before the end of this calendar year.
Alternative facts and false narratives are the subtopic for this post and an impediment that can and will throw one under the bus in the workplace and in your business dealings.
Let’s begin with the euphemism “alternative facts”. It was first introduced by Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to President Donald Trump, when she appeared as a guest on NBC’s Meet the Press on January 22, 2017. In a conversation with the show’s moderator, Chuck Todd, Conway used this term to describe some statements made by then press secretary Sean Spicer on January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump took office as President of the United States.
Todd challenged her use of alternative facts immediately, saying “Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.” Needless to say, alternative facts have created a lot of buzz since then. In his Wall Street Journal post, A Clash of Alternative and Facts, Ben Zimmer points out that “Ms. Conway found a more receptive audience for her phrasing in a Monday interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, who said that ‘alternative facts’ simply provide ‘a different perspective’.” (Sources: The Wall Street Journal and Dictionary.com)
The hotly debated topic that created this euphemism was the question of how many persons attended the inauguration ceremony of Donald J. Trump on January 20, 2017. Crowd counting experts estimated the turnout to be between 300,000 to 600,000 people, or one-third the estimated 1.1 million to 1.8 million people that attended Barack H. Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 – which set a record for the total number of people in the National Mall at any one given time.
Most folks know that crowd counting is not an exact science, and as noted above, a low to high range was given for the potential number of attendees at each event. What no one denies is that these numbers became highly contestable depending on who was reporting them. Eight months later, I am still asking myself why was that important back then? I assume that those who wanted to be in attendance for the inauguration event on the National Mall were there, or made their best effort to be there. Isn’t that what is really important here?
Here’s another perspective of these numbers. If a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s take a look at side-by-side photo images of the two inauguration events in question:
Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, left (taken at 12:01 p.m.) and Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, right (taken between 12:07 and 12:26 p.m.). Source: Reuters News Service, Lucas Jackson, Photographer [Ref 1]
Regrettably, alternative facts are not limited to political discussions and forums. They can and do surface everywhere including the politicized workplace. I don’t think I need to tell anyone that if you have a co-worker or manager who presents alternative facts as a different perspective, one should not only be concerned. Your analytical antennae should go up in sensing mode.
At this point it may be helpful to revisit the meaning of the word fact (noun). Here are two [Source: Dictionary.com]:
- a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true.
- In law: an actual or alleged event or circumstance, as distinguished from its legal effect or consequence.
My own experience with alternative facts are too numerous to mention. One that comes to mind is tied to a year-long project that I worked on as a subcontractor. I along with 59 other team supervisors were each asked to submit our top three (3) preferences for department assignments. While no one was guaranteed that he/she would get the assignment requested, our management team stated that they would do their best to make that happen. After submitting this information, and keeping a copy for my records, I started my Thanksgiving holiday weekend one day early to visit with a sick relative. Knowing that the assignments would be given out on Wednesday (Thanksgiving Eve, the day that I would be away on leave), I asked two of my co-workers to let me know which department I had been assigned. Both co-workers informed me via email that I had gotten my second choice. I was a happy camper!
On returning to work the following Monday, I was informed by the manager who I had reported to since beginning the assignment that I had been reassigned. Her specific words were: I fought to keep you in my group, but I was overruled. I proceeded to my newly “assigned area”, and when I had the opportunity to speak with my new manager, I calmly asked him if he would explain to me how I came to be in his department because it didn’t reflect the information that was on the website, or information that I had received from two team supervisors on last Wednesday.
At this point, I was looking for a general explanation for the reassignment. I was not looking for an argument. As I shared earlier, no one was guaranteed that they would get their first choice, and maybe not their second, but the organization said they would try to work with us to make that happen. Again, since we were given the option to state our choices up front, all I was looking for was a logical explanation for the change. What happened next? Instead of getting a “here’s what happened” summary, I got what I will refer to as a different perspective of the reassignment.
My new manager proceeded to tell me that I had listed his department as my second choice and that is why I was assigned to his group. Now, where was our new working relationship supposed to go from here, when I had paperwork that said otherwise, and so did the Human Resources Department? Had the new manager said that he didn’t have enough people to complete his team, and that was the reason for the reassignment, I would have understood that. Again, I knew that I didn’t have a final say in my assignment, however, I also didn’t expect my new supervisor to give me a false narrative of what I did to land in his area.
False narratives along with alternative facts are two phrases that have been widely used by several persons within the new administration. Melanie Ann Phillips provides a wonderful definition of false narrative in her post by the same name [Ref 2]: A false narrative is one in which a complete narrative pattern is perceived in a given situation, but it is not an actual narrative at work in the situation. The perception of a false narrative can be due to insufficient or inaccurate information, or to insufficient or inaccurate assessment.
My new manager appears to have created his false narrative through inaccurate assessment. He had sufficient and accurate information. I will never know why he thought his false narrative was a great beginning for our employee-manager relationship. Where did he expect our working relationship to go from there? Or did he even care?
The headcount for our most recent presidential inauguration and my experiences with the manager cited above are good lead-ins for the topic of my next post under the Thrown Under the Bus series: Thrown Under The Bus – Part 4: Deciding Not to Decide.
In case you missed reading one or both of the previous post in this series, here are the links:
- Crowd controversy: The making of an Inauguration Day photo, by Daniel Trotta for Rueters News Service, January 23, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-inauguration-image/crowd-controversy-the-making-of-an-inauguration-day-photo-idUSKBN1572VU
- The False Narrative, by Melanie Anne Phillips for The Storymind Writer’s Library, June 5, 2013, http://storymind.com/blog/the-false-narrative/
Corrections: A correction was made to this document on October 21, 2017, 12:30 p.m. PDT