We’ve all seen movies where someone has been captured and is sitting in a dark room with a single flickering bulb swaying gently over their head. They’ve been strapped to the chair and stare into the darkness. Suddenly, someone emerges from the shadows and begins asking questions along the lines of “where’s the money?”, or “where’s the body”, or “who else knows about this?”.
Of course, the person sitting in the chair refuses to talk or gives evasive and elusive answers. This frustrates the captors who predictability say “we have ways of making you talk.” Out walks the guy in the white coat with the cart full of needles, syringes, and vials of liquid. You knew it…Truth Serum. They inject the person in the chair and they start singing like a canary!
Wouldn’t you just love to have such a project management tool for extracting the truth from some of the stakeholders you may have on your projects? You know when people are bluffing or not necessarily coming forward with all the information you need. Wouldn’t it be great to sit them in a chair in a dimly lit room and inject them with Truth Serum? Yes, it would be nice to have such a project management tool, but to the best of my knowledge one like that doesn’t exist. In the meantime, you will have to extract the truth in a different manner.
Why Is Getting to the Truth So Hard?
Everyone is supposed to be honest and truthful, aren’t they? That’s what our parents taught us. That’s what we learned in school. That’s how society shapes us. But, we certainly know that everyone is not necessarily truthful all the time. It’s not that people deliberately lie, but rather they just may not tell the entire truth. This becomes especially frustrating for a Project Manager that is trying to complete a project. It’s hard to find out exactly how long something will take, or how far along a certain deliverable is, or if someone has everything they need to move forward. These “untruths” take various forms. Below are a few you have undoubtedly encountered in your professional career.
The Yarn Spinner
This person is a great story-teller. They don’t necessarily tell a lie, but they certainly do embellish the truth. They will add extra details that didn’t happen, or add people that weren’t there, or make it sound like they were much more involved than they actually were. The problem with this type of person is that they will try to bamboozle you into thinking something happened when you really know it didn’t. “Don’t you remember when we all agreed to do it this way?” they may ask. “You know, we were all sitting around the table and we made the decision and then I of course followed up right after with my manager to make sure it was OK to do it this way. Of course he said yes. You don’t remember any of that?”. Of course you don’t, because it didn’t happen that way. They’ve started to create a tangled web of a story that not even the best detective could unravel.
Here’s another classic that you will encounter as a Project Manager. A half-truth is a statement that is only partly true and is typically uttered in order to deceive someone else and/or evade blame. For example, you ask a resource on the project if the client they met with that you know was having problem with your team is OK. “They’re just fine,” the resource says and walks away. That’s only half of the story, however. They are just fine because they just fired your company and decided to go with someone else.
The Error of Omission
A variation on the Half-Truth is the Error of Omission. This is when you ask someone if the deliverable they have been working on for some time now will be complete on schedule by next week. They let you know it’s 95% complete and just on the verge of being wrapped up. That makes you feel good, but what they failed to tell you is that they’re going on a two week vacation to Hawaii starting tomorrow and it the remaining 5% will have to wait until they get back!
There are countless motivations that a person has for yarn spinning, half-truthing, or omitting pertinent information. Regardless, it’s your challenge as a Project Manager to get to what is real and factual. This is where a project management tool for truth extraction would be nice to have.
A Project Management Tool for Obtaining the Facts
Unfortunately, there’s not just one tool that you can use to get the whole truth and nothing but the truth out of someone. And, also unfortunately, the last time I checked it wasn’t legal to tie someone up in a chair and inject them with a potion like they do in the movies. You can however use some of the following techniques to arrive at a better understanding of the truth.
Look at the situation and ask questions from different angles. Kids are great at this technique. They’ll ask for something one way and they may not get the answer they like. So, they let a little time pass and come at it from a different angle and ask a different way. They may still not get the answer they like, so they’ll drop little hints along the way of what they are wanting and keep wearing their parents down. Finally, they ask the question just the right way and at the right time and they get the answer they are looking for.You can do the same with someone that may not be giving you the answer you like. Perhaps it’s a Salesperson that you know has deviated from the path of what your company typically sells. You know they’ve gone off the path, but you’re not quite sure how far yet. What kind of date did they promise? When is first deliverable due? How much did they say this was going to cost? These all need to be answered and may require you coming at them from different angles over time.
Trust but Verify
Another project management tool to use for truth extraction is Trust but Verify. Give the person the benefit of the doubt that they are telling the entire truth. But, also do your due diligence in following up that what they are saying is indeed the entire truth without certain key facts being left out. You’ll also find that if people know you are going check the facts, they’ll be more apt to make sure they are correct from the beginning.
Ask the same question to different people at different times. Let people talk. Some people like to talk a lot and will fill in much of the missing information and other people will not talk as much and leave out a ton of information. Over the course of these numerous conversations you’ll be able to piece together the entire puzzle.
Never discount your Gut Feeling. Your gut feeling comes from your intuition and is mainly based upon experience. If what someone is saying doesn’t have the ring of truth, then it’s up to you to dig a little deeper. Use some of the techniques described can get you to the level of comfort that you need to make that gnawing feeling in your gut go away.
Most people are not going to deliberately lie and you need to approach your job as a Project Manager with that mind-set. However, there may be times when the truth is less than forthcoming. It’s not your job to catch the liars, but rather to keep your project moving forward solidly based upon factual and accurate reality.
Here’s something you can Trust and Verify at the same time. Our software is a great way to share your documents, collaborate with your peers, track your time and monitor expenses all very easily.