Your blindspots are holding you back

A couple of weeks ago my wife told me that I was being sharp. I was disconnected and I did not appreciate what she was telling me. I was not really in the moment, not there with her, not part of the conversation. This type of conversation is not that uncommon. In fact, I'm willing to bet that you've had a conversation with your significant other just like this in the last couple of weeks or months. Spouse, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend - we all have these conversations.

And I reacted pretty predictably: I was indignant. I pushed back, denying that I was like that, that I could ever be like that. After all, I am one of the most caring people that I know, I would never hurt someone on purpose, and how could she even believe that I would do something like this?

My wife is one of the smartest people I know when it comes to emotional intelligence. Rather than keep insisting that I was disconnected and all the other stuff I found offensive, she asked me a simple question:

If I'm seeing this, don't you think there may be a little bit of truth to it?

I was taken aback. I had to go quiet for a minute, really reflect on what she was asking me, and then I replied: "Do you really think so?"

What is a blindspot?

A couple of years ago I wouldn't have been able to reflect like that. I wouldn't have been able to go quiet, stop fighting and protesting and think about what she had just asked me. Getting here was a journey, and I'm still on it.

I was taught about blindspots by one of the true masters. Keith Hanna has been coaching leading entrepreneurs for almost 20 years, and one of the key principles he uses in his coaching is that of blindspotting. In fact, he's writing a series of 12 books around blindspotting. He defines a blindspot as follows:

A blindspot is something you don't know about, or something you believe to be true that isn't.

Over the last few years that I've been working with Keith he's taught me how to find blindspots with coaching clients. The formula is disturbingly simple:

Imagine the most abhorrent characteristic that would appal you if you saw it in another person. Something that is totally against who you are and what you believe. It could be arrogance, superiority, sadistic tendencies or, as in my case above, disconnected and uninterested in the one that I'm supposed to love.

That's your blindspot.

The first time Keith did the exercise with me I was offended. How could I possibly be or do the one thing I find most appalling in other people? And I see the same reaction when I coach clients now, either individually or in teams - they are appalled that I could tell them they have a blindspot for something that is inherently against who they are as human beings.

It took me a while to figure out how it works - and again, it's disturbingly simple:

We find abhorrent behaviour so, well, abhorrent, that it's almost impossible for us to recognise it when we start exhibiting that kind of behaviour.

The blindspot I'm working on the hardest right now is arrogance. I find it so offensive in other people that I get turned off completely by someone whom I think is arrogant. And because I find it so disgusting I'm going to be the last one to recognise it in myself. Of course this is not my only blindspot - we all have many blindspots, some damaging, some relatively benign, that we deal with throughout our lives. Arrogance is just the one that I'm becoming most aware of right now.

How to recognise a blindspot

By definition, you can't. A blindspot is something you don't know about, or something you believe to be true that isn't. But with a bit of inside information, and some patience, and some practice, we can actually get better at it. Here's how it works.

Becoming aware of your blindspots - and dealing with them - is a process of building self-awareness. Self-awareness is our understanding of how we fit into the world, how we act and react in different situations, and especially how we deal with adversity.

The best way to find and work on your blindspots - to grow your self-awareness - is with a good coach. That coach can be a formal coach, or a business partner with depth and insight or a life partner secure enough in themselves to help you find your blindspots - and work through them.

But there are some things we can do on our own to spot potential blindspots. Here's a few of them:

  • Protesting too much: When my wife told me I was disconnected and uninterested, I responded by protesting and defending myself. And that's a sign of a potential blindspot - I'm protesting because I would find that kind of behaviour appalling in someone else, and therefore I am most likely to miss that kind of behaviour in myself. Similarly, if you see someone else protesting too much about something you find obvious, chances are it's a blindspot for them.
  • Observing how people respond to us: When someone reacts to us in a way that we find surprising or even inappropriate, one of the underlying reasons may be something we're doing, or the way we're coming across to them. In the heat of the moment it is very difficult to be objective, but if we can find the time to reflect on what just happened, we may be able to identify things we did that were not appropriate.
  • Practising self-awareness as part of your daily routine: To practice self-awareness, you can do something as simple as sitting and reflecting on the day or writing in a journal. This is not an exercise in self-flagellation though - that way lies madness. Just the act of reflection is sometimes enough to make us aware of how we act and react.

Do not fall into the trap of judgement

When we do a blindspotting exercise with clients we deliver the blindspot identification with some drama. But the first thing we do - after a well-timed pause - is to deliver two messages:

  1. There is no judgment here. We all have blindspots, and they're just that - blindspots - something we have to become aware of and work on if it is a problem. I do not judge you because you have a blindspot, and I ask that you don't judge me for mine.
  2. No one here is broken. Just because we all have blindspots does not mean we're broken. In fact, we're pretty awesome human beings. Blindspots are just one of the things we all have and we all have to work on.
The worst thing you can do is judge yourself for having a blindspot.

Having a blindspot does not mean that you are the blindspot. It just means that you are the least likely person to see that behaviour in yourself, and therefore you want to build your self-awareness to recognise it if or when it happens.

So don't judge. All of us have blindspots - including you. Recognise that it is part of being human, and part of growing is becoming aware of our blindspots.

Growing as a human being

When my wife told me I was disconnected and uninterested I was taken aback. After the initial protests and putting up walls I managed to go quiet, reflect on what she was telling me, and then reply: "Do you really think so?"

A couple of years ago I wouldn't have been able to do that. I would have continued protesting, pushing back and escalating the issue, possibly until it was a full-blown argument. But I have grown and I am better able to handle something like that. I've grown in my personal life and in business life.

And so have you. You are not the same person you were five years ago or even one year ago. You've grown and changed and you're better able to handle some things than you were in the past. Perhaps life threw you some curved balls and you're still learning how to deal with that. But you are growing, every day.

Becoming aware of our growth is a powerful thing. It allows us to embrace our place in the world, embrace the change that we are all going through all the time, and better handle adversity when it arrives. And in the process we enjoy the journey more, because we don't know when it will end.

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