Here’s a fascinating piece about an Amazon tribe that has no ability to use numbers. Even when the tribe members asked anthropologists to teach counting, the tribesmen couldn’t learn. The tribe is good at other things — fishing and making jokes, for instance — but not counting.

This immediately reminded me of couples therapy with my husband. My biggest complaint, for five or six years, was that my husband doesn’t understand tone of voice. For example, he says, “How was your day?” with the tone of voice that someone uses for “I’m going to kill you.”

It’s startling and disconcerting, to say the least. But our third couples therapist finally said to me that there’s nothing I can do. My husband’s brain just cannot learn tone of voice. I need to work around it.

So I do. I separate the meaning we typically attribute to tone of voice from what my husband is actually saying. The Amazon tribe works around the problem, too – they have a word for “a small amount” and a word for “a bigger amount”.

You need to do this at the office. The people you work with are not idiots. It is just that some people are unable to see things like you do. You need to figure out how they see things, accept it, and work around their deficits.

For example, some people are not very empathetic. Like not knowing numbers or tone of voice, these people don’t understand how some else is feeling. You have to take that into consideration when the person says something inconsiderate. Some people just cannot learn empathy.

So I’m recommending two books that are about getting along with people at work. Both are premised on the idea that you have to adjust yourself in order to get along. You Want Me to Work With Who? is very hands on and self-reflective. Working with You is Killing Me has a lot of case studies and examples. Both are good if you want to take a step in the direction of getting along with everyone at work without relying on them to change.