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"Tone Deaf" is a Real Thing: The Tech Tea with Kimberly

I have a very quick wit. It's like I have a comeback before the question is even presented. This skill of mine is not always appreciated, and some consider it to be a smart mouth, but "WHATEVA".

Having a quick wit and being a black girl is often mistaken for being any of the following:

  1. angry

  2. hard to get along with

  3. non-conforming

  4. difficult

You get my point, right.

It is even harder when the only black girl in the room or on the team is you (me in this case).

I have found that the tech culture is not always a give and take dynamic, but I have been expected to simply take and hush. This little girl from South Memphis does not respond well to this dynamic.

How it started

A time long, long ago...a manager on another team asked me for an Excel file and I sent it to her. She decided that she wanted to see a certain group, so she kept saying that I did the file wrong. The issue was that she needed to apply a filter to see the group, but she did not know how. She would never admit not knowing how, so her goal was to displace blame. I went to her and said "do you need help applying a filter" (facial expressions and all), and she was furious. I was told later by my manager that my tone was not appropriate. After several occasions like this, I started looking for another job and left in about a month. Yeah. I ran.

How it's going

So, after some griping, moaning, coaching, praying, and some more stuff, I have learned to handle instances like this differently. To be clear, things like this still happen occasionally. People talk crazy, make ridiculous requests, displace blame, and flat out lie a lot of the time. My quick wit has not left, I just keep the South Memphis way internal and give a professional response outwardly. I have learned to let more things just roll and pick my battles.

What I know for sure is sometimes my very presence just instantly inserts a tone. People sometimes get upset when I know the answer and they sometimes get upset because I have the answer. I definitely have to keep working on my facial expressions (a life long project at this point). I am also aware that people use their "tone deafness" (assuming a certain tone based on the person) as an excuse to paint negative pictures or to simply cover up their own lack of knowing.

No matter the circumstance, I want to make sure as much as possible the problem is not me. Therefore, effectively communicating has taken me a lot further in this career journey.

Here is a really good article that talks about "tone".

I hope this helps.

I actually could have used some of this earlier, but better now than never.

Remember, let's keep it classy. We can vent at brunch with our friends.

Drop a comment below and let me know how you handle this type of "it".


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5 ความคิดเห็น

I had an experience last year when I was hired by a female CIO to conduct an audit on their Company's telecom billing. When we had our first meeting and her male director was on the call and I explained that I had discovered a billing problem of over $40K a month in over billing the Director said, in front of the CIO 'Clearly You are Mistaken.' Suffice it to say, I was not mistaken but this was such an example of someone talking to me like I did not know what I was doing. Had I not been confident of my findings it could have gone very differently. Even when I know I am right, if I am…


Tecia Marshall
Tecia Marshall
19 ก.ค. 2564

I had written a whole comment! It was probably too long anyway. I've chosen the same route, Kim. Just choose my battles. As a total extrovert, this is HARD, but I'm use to it - especially in positions like ours.


You need to give us all of the tea Tecia. Yes, sometimes this magic gets mistaken :)


Michelle Powell
Michelle Powell
19 ก.ค. 2564

Ms. Kim this was good! I definitely struggle with this via email a lot more than in person or via a phone call.


Thanks Michelle! I am a direct introvert, so a simple yes or no to/from me is enough. I often adjust for the recipients. I wish others made the same effort without assuming the worst.

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