Not everyone is pitch perfect

Be curious if someone appears not to understand the situation

In February 2021 The KPMG boss Bill Michael resigned after he told his staff they should stop moaning about the impacts of the pandemic.

Rather than act as a homage to the Queen and Prince Philip who did the same in the 1960’s, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were recently accused of celebrating a submissive, colonial past after viewing a parade for service personnel in Jamaica whilst standing in the back of a Land Rover.

The metaphor to be tone deaf is described in the Cambridge dictionary as

Not understanding how people feel or what is needed in a particular situation.

It is a term often used for people who are insensitive and obtuse.

I was once described by someone as often being ‘of one note’. This comment has played on my mind and I didn’t really understand what they meant until some years later — perhaps partly demonstrating the point.

I try to create high performing environments for better decisions and enhanced creativity for solving complex problems. A characteristic of these environments is they are rarely cosy, comfortable and agreeable. In fact, a high performing environment when viewed from the outside may seem argumentative and dysfunctional. High levels of interpersonal trust allow for robust challenge and debate to ensure diverse thinking. It may therefore, seem obvious that someone who can’t read a situation well would struggle and have a negative impact on team dynamic, however I think there is an important nuance that needs careful consideration.

When people are described as being tone deaf or they have difficulty understanding what is needed it feels assumed they are not trying hard enough or only consider things from their own perspective. In recent weeks I’ve been mulling over how damaging this could be and worry that it is an accepted view that is very rarely challenged.

I spend much of my working life consciously trying to consider other views and opinions and how others may feel. I like to think I’m quite sensitive to others. However, when it comes to understanding what someone else wants in a particular situation I often have to work very hard to understand. My wife says I sometimes have a certain look of intensity when I listen to her. I’ve learned to use the technique of replaying what I have heard back to a person to make sure I understand well enough. But when I contribute to a discussion I often still don’t quite get it right and misread the situation.

Whilst this is something I am aware of and consciously try to improve, I’m also resolved to the fact I’m likely to process information differently to others and I may not ‘read the room’ as others do. I’m going to think about how I can start challenging the preconceived view that people just need to try harder (starting with this post) and wonder how many other people feel like this?

Perhaps we need to embrace the fact that interactions are sometimes clumsy. As people learn how to articulate their ideas people also need to demonstrate a little more curiosity and compassion toward those who find it hard.




Trust, accountability & humility. High performing environments in technical, highly complex orgs

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Trust, accountability & humility. High performing environments in technical, highly complex orgs

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