Exercise: Facts & Stories

Owning Your Judgment Calls

One of the most helpful habits in discourse and debate is to clearly distinguish between inarguable facts and things that are debatable—from conjecture to assumptions to theories. We’re going to practice a little habit that will help you distinguish between the two, and masterfully!

Practice Facts & Stories step-by-step, in real life:

  1. Pick something in your immediate environment that you can observe, and describe what you observe as objectively as possible. E.g. “I see that the barista at this coffee shop is making four people’s coffees at once.”

  2. Make sure not to editorialize, or inject any judgments into your observation. If necessary, qualify your observation by getting more specific or by making an objective comparison. E.g. Don’t say, “I see that the barista is rushing.” Instead say, “I see that the barista is working more quickly than I usually see baristas work.”

  3. Now say, “My story is…” and describe your snap judgment of why you think this is happening. This is not your interpretation, theory, or guess of what’s going on. E.g. “My story is the coffee shop did not estimate how many customers it would get on St. Patrick’s day, and this barista is stressed out.”

  4. Now step back and think of another story that might be the case. E.g. “Another story could be that this cafe is popular, and this barista expects it to be a fast-paced environment.”

  5. The keys to using this exercise in real life are:

    1. Carefully distinguishing the objective from the subjective.

    2. Owning your story, identifying that it is what you’ve come up with in your head. No one can argue with this, and also this helps you admit the possibility of other possible explanations.

Speaking in-arguably, while separating facts from your stories, is an essential habit for productive debate and discourse. Practice it in your real interactions!