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.


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