When I was working as a scientist, we would discuss outliers in the data. An outlier is simply a data point far outside the expected range. Here is what happens with outliers and why they lead to discussion- you have to ask yourself- is this point simply an anomaly or is the outlier really showing us something that we did not expect and need to account for- maybe the outlier is the story.
I saw it work both ways in the lab. Sometimes we understood the outlier was simply some strange glitch, other times it helped point us in a new direction we would have otherwise overlooked.
I thought about outliers yesterday when a situation unraveled. My husband’s ex-wife called him about their son, “Henry”. Apparently, things had gotten fairly ugly between she and Henry.
She called my husband 4-5 times at work, stating that she and her boyfriend could no longer handle Henry.
I was not surprised by these calls. Heck, these were the data points that had all been lining up in a neat, linear row for some time now. No need for statistical analysis, P value was less than .05. She and Henry had been escalating things and she was losing control.
It was eventually decided that Henry would spend the night with us, so everyone could have a cooling off period. The Mom and her boyfriend went to the cabin for the weekend, and Henry walked on over to our home.
Point- point- point— with little deviation. I had actually filed this under “well every parent has breaking point with kids, etc.” (not that every parent then decides to continue with vacation plans, but hey, to each his own).
And then, “plunk!” the outlier landed.
Rather than my husband’s ex- calling him and saying, “Wow, Henry and I really got into it. We both have things to work on.”
She thanked him for taking Henry, but then she said, “Just so you know, Henry will LIE about everything that happened today.”
Outlier point taken- she was already spinning the story, not only blaming Henry, but clearly, clearly setting him up. Whatever he was to say about the situation, we were to understand (in her mind) that he was telling a lie.
There was no space or concern for Henry- of his trauma and fear that things had gotten so bad his Mom left him. Nope-
only a simple, whispered outlier that told us the story.
To his Mom, Henry’s experience didn’t even exist. It was all a “lie”.
And that was the only point I needed to understand what was going on.
I write this for any of you in a situation with a hurtful, toxic person. Our natural state is to connect the dots of any story or situation and create a sense of familiarity and points of relating. This does not work with narcissistic, damaging people.
Oh, they may be lining up their story points all in a row, wanting you to follow along, but often, there will be an outlier- a moment that causes you to pause and go “Huh?” that does not quite seem normal.
That, my dear friend, is the key to your data. NOT the pretty points that are lining up all in a pretty row. That is the creative spin.
Ignore the spin and follow that outlier- it will tell you all you need to know.