Good day, team.
A former client of mine sent me an article this week about our blind spots — character traits or personal behaviors we don’t see but that show up in our interactions with others. This week’s challenge is about being willing to see our blind spots and what to do about them once we see them.
When I took my training to become a coach, I was introduced to one of my major blinds spots: I often interrupted people when they were speaking. I did this in a variety of ways. I interrupted them mid-sentence to express what I thought about their subject matter, I finished their sentences for them, and I sometimes asked them a question while they were still talking. This behavior was definitely not appropriate for coaching someone and, I painfully discovered, was extremely irritating to my friends and family who had been putting up with it for years.
Once I got over the embarrassment of having this behavior pointed out to me, I began to observe what was happening to me when I interrupted someone.
First, I was more prone to interrupt someone if I was really engaged in what they were saying. Getting excited about the subject matter raised the energy in my body. My heart would beat faster, and I felt the excitement of connecting with an idea or having thoughts quickly come to my mind. I had to do something with all that energy, so words would come out of my mouth before they were supposed to, often right in the middle of another person’s sentence.
Second, somehow I thought I knew exactly what other people were talking about, so I finished their sentences for them. This became such a habit that I found people I often talked with just naturally allowed me to finish their sentences.
Third, I was clueless to the reaction people had to my interruptions. I was usually so absorbed in what I was saying that I would miss their reaction. This kept my blind spot fully intact. I was missing all of their “this really irritates me” signals. I had no reason to change my behavior if I wasn’t aware of how irritating it was to others.
When I became certified in the Goldsmith stakeholder coaching program recently, I realized the importance of having others give us feedback so we have an opportunity to observe our blindspots. At the heart of this coaching model is the participation of the stakeholder, and that’s why it’s so successful. It’s the people you ask to observe your behaviors and give you constant feedback — or as Marshall Goldsmith calls it, “feed forward” — that make this coaching model so useful.
With this method (if you have the courage to do it), you ask your stakeholders to tell you if you’re using the behaviors you want to use to improve or if you’re still stuck in your blind spot behaviors. In my case, I asked my stakeholders to observe whether I was still interrupting them, and they had my permission and encouragement to tell me when I was. In the spirit of feed forward, they could also give me ideas for what I could do going forward to change this blind spot behavior.
I have a clear memory of the first time my coaching professor observed my interrupting behavior in front of the rest of the class. I was so embarrassed and humiliated. To make matters worse, within my body I felt like someone had just taken all the wind out of my sails. All that energy that was enthusiastic about what the other person was saying was stopped dead in its tracks, and I was left to wallow in it as it slowly dissipated.
I weakly asked, how do I stop this and what do I do with all this energy? What do I do instead? The teacher was smart enough to ask my fellow classmates. Many of them chimed in with great suggestions, and I realized that by being vulnerable and willing to listen, I got some very sincere and great suggestions:
- “Try being present to your breathing while the other person is talking, and when the desire to speak arises, breathe your way through it until the person is done speaking.”
- “Sit on one of your hands or put your hand in your pocket as soon as the other person starts to speak. Don’t allow yourself to say anything or move your hand until the person is done speaking.”
- “Listen to your voice when you speak. Is it high and excited sounding? Or does it sound like it’s coming from deeper within you, from your belly rather than your throat? Try hearing the difference in tone, and when you do speak to someone, try speaking from your belly. You may find that speaking from there allows you to control the urge to interrupt and slows you down enough to catch yourself from interrupting.”
I was humbled by the sincerity of their suggestions. Everyone could see that we all have blind spots, and mine weren’t any better or worse than anyone else’s. And when they were caught in their own blind spots, I greatly wanted to help them see their behavior and find good ways to change it.
All of this encouraged me to ask for more feedback and suggestions. As painful as it was to receive it, I knew that this was where I really needed to do my work — in the places where I was most blind.
This week, have the courage to ask some of your stakeholders (the people who see your behaviors daily) what behaviors they see you doing that are not helpful or useful. Ask them how you could change your behaviors to better suit the situation and be more appropriate.
Maybe you get immediately defensive when someone gives you constructive feedback and say things like, “I do not” or “You’re mistaken.” This certainly won’t encourage the person to continue to offer suggestions. Maybe you’re someone who talks too much. Try becoming more aware of how people react to you in the moment. Do you notice that people stop listening to you while you are talking? How about the blind spot of always playing the role of the devil’s advocate? Do you find that you almost always disagree with what’s being said just to make sure the other side is heard? Or maybe you want people to see how smart you are by raising the other perspective? Sometimes this behavior can be useful and sometimes not — it all depends on the situation. But if you always do it, chances are there’s a blind spot there. Here are two more of my favorites: acting as the class clown or the cynic. Do you frequently use humor to buffer situations, even at the expense of others? Or are you the one who often makes a cynical comment, particularly when someone in the room is excited or hopeful about the work he or she is doing? One client of mine told me he was afraid to go into meetings with his boss. He seemed so mild mannered and polite with everyone most of the time, but occasionally, his boss would make a snide remark to someone in a meeting. It was so out of character that no one was even sure if he’d actually said it — except for the person he made the snide remark to. They never forgot it.
The best part about asking others to help us increase our self-awareness is in their sincere responses. We all know we need help, and it’s the loving kindness in us that wants to serve each other in the best way we can. When someone sincerely asks for help seeing their blindspots, we are more than willing to assist. It’s like seeing a blind person trying to cross a busy intersection, would we just allow them to walk into the street without trying to help them cross it?
Have a good week!
Many thanks to Christian Buschow for sending me this blog entry about blind spots. Here’s the link: http://aslantraining.com/blog/what-does-your-sign-say.
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