This summer an interesting commercial ran on television: There was a guy (named Mayhem) who was riding on the outside of the driver’s side of the car and became the driver’s blind spot. When the driver looked into the outside mirror to change lanes, Mayhem gave the A-Okay. So, the driver changed lanes (not seeing the car that was in her blind spot) and a huge crash ensued. During the collision, Mayhem was shouting with delight as the driver screamed in terror.
Although its intent was to sell something, the commercial brilliantly captured the power of the blind spot. We aren’t speaking just of cars here, but rather of the various blind spots that each of us have in our lives. “What blind spot,” you ask? Unfortunately, if you could see it, it wouldn’t be a blind spot: that is what makes these things difficult to root out, but let’s try.
The first and most important thing you can do is to acknowledge that in fact you probably do have blind spots (being human and all), but because you are blind to them, you don’t know what they consist of. The second thing is to look for those clues that can help you know what you don’t know—in the form of patterns. Watch for those times when things seem to be difficult and you are the common denominator, or find that you are misunderstood time and again as you try to communicate your perspective, or you find yourself believing that change is hopeless despite consistent effort. These patterns offer clues for uncovering your blind spots.
For example, David, a client we worked with, stated that for a while now he had felt misunderstood in most of the meetings that he attended. We asked him to identify all the times when he felt misunderstood when engaging with others throughout the day. Upon reflection, he realized that he often felt misunderstood when he met with people outside his department or with other managers.
As his executive coaches, we asked him questions that helped him explore what might be going on from a variety of perspectives. We were looking for patterns to determine the nature of the meetings and what he saw other people doing during the meetings. What became evident was that David had a pretty big blind spot with regard to his ability to collaborate with others whom he perceived to be competing for the same resources. It turns out that he was a great team player on his team but struggled when the situation called for working with members of different teams.
With some help from us, he found that there were behaviors (mostly non-verbal) that set him up to fail in meetings that involved people from other departments. His behaviors communicated that he was not interested in collaborating, while his words insisted he was—and people will always believe your behavior more than your words… They will always believe how they felt around you more than they will believe the things you said.
This week, we would like for you to scan your days and identify times when things seem to go awry without your intention, when you are misunderstood despite your best efforts to communicate, or believe something is hopeless and nothing you are doing seems to have an impact. Write down the patterns that lead you to wonder if you are bumping into a blind spot. Then talk with someone that you trust (and who knows you well) and ask if you are behaving in some way that is the opposite of your intentions. Then listen without judging yourself—remember, blind spots are by nature outside of your vision. Once you see them, you have the power to make your life more effective and meaningful.