In the year or so after we sold our company, our flashy new NASDAQ-quoted American owners and, perhaps even more urgently, our more staid primary partner organisation in London wanted us to start recruiting to senior positions from outside the original shareholder base. It seemed that what they had in mind was a set of individuals who waddled and quacked a lot more like traditional ‘communications professionals’.
Most of the founding principals were pioneers, yet more or less amateurs. The field was too new.
One member of the fresh intake was the walking, talking archetype of what the instigators of this process had in mind. But once I had started to attend meetings with him, in his capacity as our new (and actually first) Director of Client Services, it became clear that much of this talking was emerging out of a one way channel. (Traditional communications are after all, more about the broadcast mode.)
From this experience I have learned just how important empathy can be in any state of negotiation or indeed in the daily workflow. Individuals who are comparatively unable to form accurate impressions of the motivations (or indeed) emotions that underlie words spoken in a commercial context will quickly find themselves at a disadvantage.
My new colleague appeared to think everyone else had exactly the same picture of the world that he did. In scientific terms, he had no real theory of mind. In the end we had to let him go (though ultimately for reasons more complex than an inability to read people in meetings).
Being an amateur has its drawbacks, but it is not an intellectual defect.