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Blind Spots…when the obvious isn’t

Man covering his eyes

Many years ago, there was a training company that concentrated on one single aspect of life and behaviour, and that was Blind Spots. The thinking was that if there’s anything that can stop an individual, or indeed a business, being everything that it could or should be, it’s going to be Blind Spots. The training modules that company came up with at the time concentrated on making delegates aware of the limitations of their own certainties and the need for them to constantly remain alive to the possibility that what they believed to be the truth of a matter may well not be.

How does this work? Well, without wanting to oversimplify things, take this as an example. One may well have the impression that Blue Nun wine (heard of that?) is the absolute top of the vintage when it comes to white wine. Especially if it’s what your parents drank when there was any celebration, thinking, God love them, that it was top notch, and great value too. That being the case, one’s measuring stick, then, for all things white wine is Blue Nun and all other white wines will, knowingly or unknowingly, be measured against it. As a result, many outstanding white wines will be written off as being too dry and undrinkable, Blue Nun being a sweeter wine. It’s a Blind Spot. And this becomes a problem when one starts to condemn other white wines because of it.

Perhaps a better example is that of Woolworths, a department store that most readers will hopefully remember, or at least be aware of. Woolworth’s management thought that they were, as a company, just about impregnable. After all, they were a household name, present in just about every High St., they had been around for at least two generations, what could go wrong? They had a Blind Spot. They couldn’t see the writing on the wall for the High St., they didn’t keep abreast of what online was going to do. Their Blind Spot led to their demise.

Hopefully reading this will act as a reminder that we all have these Blind Spots and in the majority of cases they act negatively in our lives. Someone may not recognise their own innate kindness, or how much they are admired and valued in their community, and potentially this is part of their charm, but it’s the not so charming we’re looking at here.

Our examples of Blue Nun and Woolworth’s are illustrations of Blind Spots, but how can we be aware of them in ourselves? In their book “Thanks for the Feedback…” Stone and Heen talk about three ways in which we act unknowingly, through our facial expression, through our tone of voice and through our patterns of behaviour. All three of these can say something about us that we’re not aware of.

They go on to identify three ‘Blind Spot amplifiers’, things that work against us recognising our own failings. The first of these is our emotions. We are often oblivious to the way we display our feelings. Take anger for instance, how often have you been with someone who is angry and showing it? More often than not they’re so wrapped up in the moment that they’re unaware of the spectacle they’re making; they’re also unaware of the residual impression they leave behind them. It’s a Blind Spot.

The second ‘amplifier’ kicks in when things go wrong. We may see things as being the result of ‘life’ or ‘circumstances’ or even someone else’s fault, and act accordingly. Other’s might see what happens, the way I respond, as being a response prompted by my character.

The third is an interesting one. We tend to judge ourselves by our intentions. Others judge us by the outcome. Our Blind Spot is thinking that others see things as we do.

All these things point to the same end. We think we know ourselves, but we really don’t!

How should we respond? What can we do? In terms of our personal life’s, by giving those we love permission to speak into our lives without us taking offense. More widely, by being aware of how those people we don’t know so well respond to us, a negative response may indicate a Blind Spot in the way we’ve acted towards them. In our businesses we can do much the same by giving our work colleagues, our peers, permission to bring to our attention things about us that they’ve noticed that they feel we haven’t. If they agree to make this reciprocal it can make a big difference in the efficiency and happiness of the work environment.

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