Can you distinguish facts from stories from beliefs? Do you use facts the way a drunk uses a lamp post—for support versus illumination?

Facts, stories, and beliefs are not the same things. However, we fail to distinguish one from the other when engaged in discussions. Rightly parsing facts from stories from beliefs matters to leaders, change agents, and those who desire to dent the universe. Just as wars are fought by soldiers but caused by conflicting politicians, arguments are fought using facts but are caused by conflicting yet undistinguished beliefs. If you want to forge extraordinary agreements, facilitate resolutions to problems, and end persistent complaints, you must elevate the rhetoric away from a clash of facts and beyond time-wasting stories and get people to reveal their beliefs and the rationales behind them. Once they do so—and want to understand others' beliefs as well—a new level of learning and collaboration becomes available.

Consider the following two sentences:

“Our revenue was $50 million last year, and that is simply not enough. Marketing is inept.”

Many listeners give each phrase equal treatment. People who fail to distinguish facts from stories from beliefs are represented on the left side of the FACTS, STORIES, and BELIEFS PRIME; you can think of them as “passive listeners.” These people cannot or do not recognize that ...

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