Seeing What’s NOT There

One of my favorite sources for thought-provoking content is Big Think.

Over the past couple weeks, their newsletter highlighted the most popular videos on their site in 2016.  Among them was a really interesting 5-minute video of  Amy Herman describing visual intelligence (you can view it here).

In the video, she highlights that visual intelligence involves noticing not only the details that you can see, but also the “pertinent negative.”

“It’s saying what isn’t there in addition to what is there to actually give a more accurate picture of what you are looking at.”

The example she gives is from emergency medicine.  For a doctor, it’s critically important to notice both symptoms that are present and not present in order to arrive at the right diagnosis. This can mean the difference between life or death in medicine.

It struck me that this same concept is central to diagnosing organizational culture problems, particularly when it comes to issues of authenticity and inclusion.

For example, when we observe a meeting, it’s easy to notice:

  • What was said
  • Who spoke up
  • What opinions were expressed
  • What decisions were made

But, it may be more important to notice the pertinent negatives in that meeting:

  • What wasn’t said
  • Who didn’t speak
  • What questions were not asked
  • What opinions were not expressed
  • What unspoken messages were communicated
  • What story did the body language in the room tell

It is in the pertinent negatives where our organizations squander talent, miss ideas, and crush the employee spirit.

So, in 2017, let’s make a resolution commitment to pay close attention to the pertinent negatives in our relationships at work.

Let’s ask questions that will bring what isn’t being said into the light.

Let’s notice those who don’t speak and invite them into the conversation.

Let’s challenge ourselves to ask the question that everyone is afraid of.

Let’s seek out the contrary opinion and try to truly understand it.

Let’s make the unspoken messages explicitly spoken to be more transparent in our intentions.

Let’s notice when eye contact disappears and closed body language rules the day so that we might pause to examine where we got off track.

Let’s commit to seeing that which is hard, perhaps even uncomfortalbe, to see in 2017 to decide if we can live with the picture it reveals.

Then, we can set about the work of doing better.


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