DEAR MISS MANNERS: As the executive director of human resources for a hospital, I have employees coming to me with a variety of issues. The greatest challenges are those that are basically interpersonal conflicts.
Perhaps it is our nature, but people present the side of the story that they think will elicit the greatest sympathy from me, not only failing to report the whole story, but also exaggerating and even fabricating details.
I can find myself in awkward situations, trying to hold people accountable for things that they didn’t necessarily do, or feeling skepticism rise in me instead of listening wholeheartedly.
How can I politely inquire of people, “What are you not telling me?” Not that I can’t do my own investigation, but I wish people realized that I am not called to take sides in disputes.
GENTLE READER: It is indeed our nature, but fortunately you have asked Miss Manners how to get at the truth politely, not how to reform the tendency of human resources (or what used to be called “people”) to embellish their complaints.
The solution rests in your expressed desire to listen wholeheartedly. When Mason complains that Madison took his stapler and yelled at him, encourage him to tell his story and listen to what he says. Most people’s exaggerations are a casual play for sympathy, not a scripted or well-rehearsed attempt to deceive.
Three minutes in, Mason is more likely than not to confess that last week he took Madison’s mouse pad without asking, thus saving you the trouble of an extended investigation.