‘If the facts don’t fit the theory change the facts’ is a quote often attributed to Einstein, although it appears nowhere in his published works. Unsurprisingly so, because it is unhelpful nonsense, something Einstein did not specialise in. Unfortunately, it is a concept which is becoming more and more common, as we have seen over the last few days with the saga of Philip Schofield and his second-line casualty Holly Willoughby.
I won’t go over the well-trodden ground – unless you are a hermit you know how the story of his demise unfolded. But I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of his story with another story; the lamentable handling by Dorset police of the tragic loss of two young people in a swimming incident in Bournemouth. The similarity is that of invention, suppression and manipulation of facts in both cases which encouraged speculative theories which the media would like to have us believe; mainly sensationalist and always in the pursuit of sales rather than truth. Thrilling – maybe. Helpful – absolutely not.
The link is silence. Phil lied to his bosses and his wife about the affair, and apparently also lied to Holly, and in the whirlwind of disbelief which followed was silent about the truth for much too long. This created the space for rumour-mongering on a massive scale. Holly went on an extended holiday when the news broke, and was essentially silent for 2 weeks, allowing the newspapers and social media to invent a range of her emotions. In Bournemouth, the early police statements about the cause of the tragedy were opaque and unhelpful except to those who wanted to indulge in wild imaginings of the cause. I am not a conspiracy theorist but I will admit to watching the news about the swimming disaster and wondering what the cause could possibly have been if it was not contact with a jet-ski, or interference from a ferry boat, or jumping off the pier. When the obvious is ruled out (which is what the police statements did) and there is silence about what was more likely, fanciful invention is all that is left. All that was necessary was an admission that there was no obvious cause, but it was most likely to have been (a sudden rip tide?) and that inquiries were proceeding.
For negotiators, the faux cliché attributed to Einstein morphs into ‘If the facts don’t fit the argument, change the facts’, which is also unhelpful nonsense. Timing in a negotiation is always key – when to reveal a new piece of information, or make a proposal, or shift ground. Negotiators tend to procrastinate; holding back so as to see what might happen from the other side. Often that decision is undermined by pressure from the other side and if that pressure provokes a lie then negotiators find themselves on a slippery slope. Most commonly this occurs when an unrealistic proposal is defended by an untruthful assertion (‘your competitor’s price is 20% lower than yours). Requests for substantiation are met with – you guessed it – either bluster or silence.
Control of the facts is a key skill. Usually disclosure of what you want - and which facts lead you to believe that to be tenable - is always best put up earlier rather than later, denying the opportunity for speculation about your position. The no-no is more likely to be focussing on the emotional issues – how you feel and what the conflict is doing to your mental health. Disclosing how badly you need what you are asking for, either verbally or by your body language, is also counterproductive and not recommended.
The combined contents of Phil’s interview with Amol Rajan, Holly’s emotional statement when she returned to This Morning, and the early statements from Dorset police, prove the point.