The Pertinent Negative and Attitudes, Perceptions, and Behaviors


Amy Herman, author of Visual Intelligence, teaches about the importance of the things that are missing and simply not there, but are valuable parts of a puzzle.  Her common example is that pneumonia has three symptoms, and one of those symptoms being missing would indicate that the sickness is not pneumonia.  Therefore, it is just as valuable to know what is missing as it is to know what is there (Burkus, 2016).  This concept of the pertinent negative opens perception to a wider view of the situation.

Benefits of the Pertinent Negative in Human Interaction

Perception is the process of turning observations into behavior and is the meeting place of different thinking styles, background, beliefs, and feelings (Gilorkar, n.d.).  Perception goes hand in hand with attitudes, which are evaluations of people, places, objects, or events that reflect how people feel about things (Gerdes, 2018).  Since perception is selective, based upon learned patterns, it is important to consider what is not being perceived, to ask “What is missing from the picture?”  Identifying the pertinent negative in human interaction helps people see past the biases and around cultural holes in their perception in order to see more of the situation, which enables better communication and understanding between people.

Using a Broader View to Improve Relationships

The pertinent negative opens understanding to a broader view than initial perception usually would.  In relationships, that broader view opens channels of communication and less blockages.  As Atkinson Consulting notes, the pertinent negative “dislodge[s] information from people that might not normally share, or even know to share, things that might be relevant” (Atkinson Consulting, 2016).  By dislodging that information, errors in perception allows people to communicate better and with less friction.  Each person normally communicates with relevant details from their perspective, but the pertinent negative reveals the rest of the story, which may be relevant to the other party.

The Pertinent Negative for a Manager

As a manager, using the pertinent negative can be useful in identifying root cause as well as understanding the entire situation behind an issue. The pertinent negative is especially important during the hiring and employee review process to ferret out what the employee is not saying, which is important (Atkinson Consulting, 2016).  To understand employee behavior, it is important to understand more of the picture than is often readily visible.  Sometimes there are details or motives that employees do not share without asking the right questions. And the pertinent negative helps make those questions more apparent.

Pertinent Negative in My Current Situation

Currently, I am running operations in a company of about fifty employees.  Everyone has their own motivations and agendas, and politics do come up, especially among leadership.  The team is amazing, but they are human, so we deal with human problems.  In dealing with employees as well as in leading my other leaders. It is important for me to see through their politics and understand what they are not telling me.  It is important to see through the politics and past the obvious to see what the real situation is.

This helps with handling customers as well, in my current situation.  A lot of clients may give pieces of a situation, but I need to pull the rest of the details out of them to understand the scope and severity of their issue.  It is commonplace that customers will give me the details that they find pertinent, but they leave out details that are critical to developing the correct solution.  For instance, if a client says that their email is down and nobody in the company can receive mail, it is important to know what changes were made leading up to that problem.  Of course, most clients will say “We haven’t changed anything!”  However, with further questioning into the pertinent negative, I learn that they updated their website this morning and modified the records that control their domain name, which resulted in mail being undeliverable.


The pertinent negative is a useful tool in interpersonal relationships as well as professional settings to understand what is not initially visible.  It helps to hear what a person is not actually saying.  It allows perception beyond what is obvious.  The pertinent negative is the understanding that there is more detail than is often communicated.  This understanding allows a communicator to ask more questions to search around what is actually being said.


Atkinson Consulting. (2016, September 24). The Pertinent Negative. Retrieved from

Burkus, D. (2016, September 14). How to notice what you can’t see. Inc. Retrieved from

Gerdes, D. (2018, January 21). OB Chapter 3 Attitudes and Job Satisfaction Video for Class [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from

Gilorkar, R. (n.d.). Organisational Behaviour Perception. Retrieved from

Herman, A. (2016, September 10). Take this perception test to see how visually intelligent you are [Video]. Youtube. Retrieved from


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