Quiet voices in pubs…. and other places

What have Faye Dunaway, Kim Jong Il, Delia Smith and Alex Ferguson all got in common?  If, like me, you had been at The Railway Tavern in Richmond last Thursday you would have found out.  For that was the night our office team celebrated a birthday in style with a silver medal at the local pub quiz.

The social anthropologist Kate Fox in her book Watching the English stated that ‘the importance of the pub in English culture cannot be over-emphasised’ – you can add to that the observation that the pub quiz reveals huge amounts about the culture of those taking part.  What was on display on Thursday were many of the characteristics of our team – magnified by the self-induced pressure of competition.

In one of the picture rounds we were shown the covers of four ‘Ladybird’ children’s books and asked to give the titles.  Fortunately our team was mostly of an age where we know about these things and got most of them quickly.  We were faced however by a tricky little number depicting a couple of children in German national costume – lederhosen type gear – sitting in a field.

From that clear description you will, as we did, churn over all Grimms’ fairy-tales and settle on the one you think most likely.  The alpha males (and females) shouted loudest, inadvertently helping the other teams, and keen to be seen the most knowledgeable in ours, and Hansel and Gretel won out.

As the answers were revealed, so was our weakness.  Far from being Hansel and Gretel it was in fact Heidi.  In our desire to show off our (unreliable) knowledge we had ignored the quiet voice of one of our team members who had offered the right answer.  We had heard her all right, but had unconsciously chosen to overlook it – not because we did not value her wisdom, but because she was not as vociferous or as certain as the rest of us.

The author Jeff Lindsay writes that ‘A single moment spent in a business meeting or at a pub is more than enough to reveal the basic human truth that we are all faking it most of the time’.  I would challenge him – both business meetings and pubs often reveal the truth about us.

In this case our behaviour showed a side of our innate culture that is frequently displayed in business meetings.  The quiet, questioning and less certain voice is over-ridden and a poorer result is achieved – probably with more important results than second in a pub quiz.

So next time we will listen to everyone, question our own certainty and scoop the gold medal – though this last piece may require us to brush up on a few other areas as well.   And the answer to the question at the beginning of this blog?  They were all born in 1941.


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Coode Associates supports and advises companies on leadership and organisational effectiveness and alignment, identifying Purpose and Values and on culture-shaping more generally. If you’d like to speak with us, we’d love to hear from you: info@coodeasssociates.com.

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