Some Truths are More Important than Others

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine is a terrible thing for those affected. It is also instructive in various aspects of conflict management. One of those aspects relates to what is “true” and what is “not true”.

We know, for example, that a Malaysian airliner crashed unexpectedly over the battle area. This is odd because airliners generally don’t crash like this. We believe that it was shot down with missile. If so, that missile must have been sophisticated to be effective against such a high altitude target.

Based on the above, the media is a buzz with stories about Russian separatists using a Russian Buc missile system to shoot down the airliner. If so, where did they get it? Likely from Russia. And the separatists were not likely able to operate this system on their own. Where did they get the needed assistance? Probably from Russia. And the media is equally abuzz with statements from Russia saying that whatever happened, Russian forces were not involved.

Notice that we do not need to be certain that Russian forces were involved to act on the probabilities involved. And we do act without certainty. Russian denials are largely discounted because they are unlikely. Indeed, at least some would be impatient to achieve certainty before acting.

In other words, in conflict, we construct full story lines that piece together what we know and what we believe. We act on those story lines — not the truth. So if you want to manage conflict, you need to become expert at identifying what the underlying stories are and work in concert with them, instead of against them.

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