Uncovering Our Blind Spots

Our blind spots are like spiders running for cover.  They hide under couches, chairs, anything that blocks the spider from being seen.

Two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, developed the Johari Window model. The model illustrates how the process of communication – in particular, receiving feedback – provides us with important information. In the model, the blind spot represents things others know about us that we don’t know about ourselves.

The information people pick up about us is through verbal cues, mannerisms, the way things are said, facial expressions and unconscious signals. It’s our unconscious messages that we send out that can undermine our goals, intentions and efforts.

Here are some examples of people oblivious to how others are experiencing them:

  • Brad thinks he is open minded and wants to hear others ideas but when suggestions are made at a meeting he often rolls his eyes and points out why the idea won’t fly.
  • Terry thinks she’s a good listener but she will often continue talking about herself long after others have signaled that they want to leave or change the topic.
  • Linda sees herself as a good leader but when someone brings up a concern, she defends her decision and says she “wants no conflicts,” effectively shutting down the discussion.

All three of these people are unaware of the unconscious messages they are sending but others see the signals and feel the impact.

Our faces send huge amounts of information to others. Unfortunately, we can’t see our own faces (unless we are looking in a mirror). We humans are constantly reading facial cues, it’s instinctual. We need to know who are friends and who are foes.

Our tone of voice conveys what we are thinking and feeling. It’s not just what we say but how we say it. We are often blind to our own tone.

A dismissive hand wave, a furrowed brow or a sarcastic response are all subtle cues as to what is going on in our minds. We judge ourselves based on our intentions, others judge us by our impact on them.

We collude with each other to keep our blind spots untouched. We withhold feedback because we don’t want to hurt others feelings or start an argument.

One of the best ways to shrink our blind spot is to solicit specific and useful feedback. Asking general questions like, “how am I doing?” is confusing for the person being asked. Where does one begin??

A more specific question like, “what am I doing that is getting in the way of my being successful?” or “what specifically could I be doing to improve how I manage the meeting?” These types of questions will be more helpful. Ask for feedback from trusted mentors and friends.  Ask for honest feedback not just supportive feedback.

Ask someone to watch you in action and give you specifics.  Audio or video recording yourself can be quite illuminating.

However you get information, consider it a gift. It can mean the difference between a successful career or a failed one.


Feedback and Boundaries: The Dynamic Duo



Receiving useful feedback can be life changing.  It’s through feedback that we see how other’s perceive us and other people learn about how we perceive them.  Many of us stumble through life with huge “blind spots”.  Meaning, others can see and be affected by our behaviours but we are blissfully unaware.  It is by being open to growth and learning that we encourage others to give us the feedback we need.

BUT, not everyone is good at delivering useful and supportive feedback.  I remember as a young woman spending hours getting ready to go out on a date and when I emerged from my bedroom my mother said, “You aren’t wearing that, are you?”  As you can imagine, I was deflated.  I can’t exactly remember how I reacted but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t good.

My mother loved me and had my best interests at heart and I knew that so I cut her lots of slack.  Yet, not everyone has good intentions.  What about the colleague whose motives are not so clear?  What about the boss who has a huge “blind spot” and delivers feedback like a freight train? It’s important to be open for feedback but not to be open for having your soul crushed.  This is where boundaries are indispensable. When feedback is coming hard and fast, this is not the time to “turtle” or go into hiding.  As Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen say in their new book, Thanks for the Feedback, “Being able to establish limits on the feedback you get is crucial to your well-being and the health of your relationships.”  Sometimes shutting out the critics and forging ahead to make your own choices, mistakes and plans, is essential.

Stone and Heen talk about three main boundaries:

1) I may not take your advice – with this boundary you are willing to listen and consider what is being said but you may decide to go another way.  By voicing this to the other person, you are letting them know where you stand.

2) I don’t want feedback about that subject, not right now (or ever) – You get to decide when you are willing to hear feedback.  The only concern with this boundary is that you don’t use it to close down a conversation continually as a strategy to avoid dealing with an important issue that needs addressing.

3) Stop, or I will leave the relationship – As Stone and Heen say, “If you can’t keep your judgments to yourself, if you can’t accept me the way I am now, then I will leave the relationship, or change its terms.” This boundary is for when someone’s method of giving feedback is harmful and damaging to our sense of who we are.

When it comes to feedback, it needs to be constructive and supportive.  If the feedback is a character assassination, non-stop, demanding, threatening or manipulative, it’s time for a boundary.

Is “Feedback” a Dirty Word?

I was having a chat with a government employee today and he said that he wanted to have a “culture of feedback” in his department.  His background was investigative where it was common practice to come together as a group, share information and offer feedback to each other.  They would work together so that the end result was greater than any of them could have done alone.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????His idea of feedback is sharing so that the whole team is made better. It makes sense.

Not many of us approach the idea of feedback that way.  We often respond to it as criticism and a personal threat. My sense is we do that because most of us have experienced “feedback” that was hurtful, attacking, a put down, and shame producing. I don’t know about you, but after receiving “feedback” like that, I become less open to hearing more of the same.

Yet, if we aren’t open for feedback, we send the message to others not to give it to us and they won’t.  Soon we are operating with limited information.  We don’t know if what we are doing is working or not working.  We are, at best, guessing. We need to know what others are thinking so we can make adjustments.

I’ve been in a writers critique group for years and I remember in the early days having emotional reactions to the critique of my fellow writers.  Since having learned to manage the critique better, I notice I get much fuller and more specific feedback.  It was like my colleagues knew that I was reacting to their feedback so they filtered what they said to me.  Now I get lots of good feedback and it has helped my writing immensely.

Learning to receive feedback is a skill to be learned.  Here are some tips to help with receiving feedback well:

1/ Remember that feedback is about fostering your own growth.

2/ Seek out people who can give you balanced as well as supportive feedback.

3/ Ask for coaching. You are the most important person in your own growth. Know you’re surrounded by people you can learn from.

4/ When you find yourself reacting to what someone is saying – manage your internal dialogue and become curious.  Remember, you get to decide what you want to do with the feedback you’re given.

5/ Feedback is always about how the other person perceives things.  It is neither right nor wrong.  It’s just their perspective. If you can keep that in mind, you can make choices about how you want to respond. You can listen and enquire.  You can assert yourself and then enquire.  You can listen to some of it.  You can listen and then decide to ignore it.  It’s all up to you.

A book that I highly recommend is “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.  All the best with the feedback coming your way!