Four Sides to Every Story (The Truth About Conflict)

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

It seems we’ve had a lot of conflict lately. From international disagreements to dragging someone off a plane, we’ve seen significant conflict on full display.

As I’ve heard people discuss recent conflicts, I’ve heard a similar comment over and over — “Never forget there are two sides to every story.” Two sides to every story. Wouldn’t that be nice? I already know my side, so all I’d need to do is take the time to learn your side. Anyone else wanting to “pick a side” could simply look at both sides and make up their mind which side they believe. Simple, until some old sage complicated matters when he expanded on this comment by altering it to read, “There are three sides to every story — yours, mine, and the truth somewhere in between.”

Three sides to every story. That makes sense. It’s the side we seldom see — the third side — the pure truth with no personal bias involved. Even though I have my side and you have yours, we often arrive at our position with partial information. We believe strongly that we have all the information we need, but we never really see the entire picture. With a personal bias to our side and a lack of information, we head out to those people wanting to “pick a side” and share what we think is the truth (or perhaps what we want the truth to be).

But now it’s become more complicated. If I’m willing to look seriously at this conflict, I must admit that my side isn’t entirely accurate because I’m probably missing some information. Your side isn’t all that accurate either because you’re probably missing some information, too. So now I have to spend time searching out this third side — the pure truth. It was so much easier when I was convinced that I was right in the first place!

I am convinced that if every party involved in a conflict simply searched for the pure truth with an open mind, we’d all be fine. Unfortunately, in many cases I have found there is actually a fourth side to every story. The fourth side is this crazy version that people just make up! You know that side, don’t you? It’s the version of the story that comes out of nowhere and isn’t even close to the truth. Perhaps their information is third-hand at best, or maybe they’re just bored and want to discredit the truth so badly they’ll just create some crazy version.

I’ve realized I have no control over this bizarre fourth side of any story. Sadly, this fourth side of the story usually distorts the situation so badly that no one ever gets to the real truth. I’ve also realized the only thing I can control is me. So I’ve made some commitments to myself in handling these conflicts, and I encourage you to consider the same, including:

Constantly seek out the truth

Verify that you truly have all the facts to solidify “your” side of the argument, and then dig some more. Most people get the information they want and settle with that as the truth. If conflict continues, seek out the truth. Get the whole picture.

Talk it out

Most people don’t like conflict, so they take their limited knowledge as gospel and avoid ever having to speak about it again. When we talk it out, our awareness of the situation expands. We then can figure out how to achieve our own goals without undermining the goals of others.

Separate the conflict from the person

In any conflict, there is an opportunity to destroy relationships. I’ve had the opportunity to witness first-hand the passion people have to their side of the story. There may be some conflict so significant that relationships can’t continue, but in most cases, it’s not. If the people involved matter enough, it’s a matter of separating the conflict from the person.

Conflict is a part of life. No matter how hard we try, we’ll encounter it every day. However, if we don’t handle it effectively (or at least try), we can be faced with damaging results. Not only can we lose relationships, we can see teamwork break down and talent get wasted because of disengagement. Work hard to find the pure truth. And if you’re one of those people creating the fourth side of the story for your own amusement, cut it out. You’re wearing us out!


Clint Swindall

© 2017 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit, or contact him directly

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About Clint Swindall - View all posts by Clint Swindall

I am a professional leadership speaker, trainer, consultant, and author on the topic of employee engagement.

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