Help! I Can’t See My Blind Spot!
I’m on the 17th floor of a hotel in San Jose, CA tonight, watching an endless river of headlights on the freeway. I’m reminded that life moves on at it’s own pace, whether we see it or not.
We all have blind spots. Maybe we’re resisting something, or maybe we’re in complete denial about something. It’s really hard to know, because we can’t see it. Hence the term, “blind spot.” Others may see the issue as clear as day, even point it out to us, but somehow we are stuck in our personal lens.
Coaching can help to bring light to blind spots. Because the coach has no agenda but the client’s (as opposed to a partner, manager, friend, or colleague, who maybe can’t help but have an agenda), the blind spots more easily spotted. And once visible, a blind spot can be addressed, and in fact often screams to be addressed. Executive coaching is particularly valuable in this regard, as an executive often is not challenged on his or her blind spots.
Setting goals, creating vision statements, and designing action plans are some of the foundational steps in coaching. Blind spots are one of the more subtle aspects of the art of coaching, yet can yield enormous transformational growth. This is because blind spots are what may have kept us stuck for years, wondering why we couldn’t seem to change things.
Is it important to be aware of your blind spots? Absolutely! Why? Because effective action and communication can only be taken from a place of clarity; clarity can only be obtained by seeing the whole picture; and blind spots obscure the whole picture, or give a false picture. Further, we tend to blame or are frustrated with other people when we have a blind spot, not realizing that it may be our own resistance or denial that is triggering their behavior toward us.
- John is frustrated with his team at work. He feels others are not “pulling their weight,” which is leaving him feeling like he is the only one truly committed, and he’s losing his motivation, feeling like a victim, and running around with a very short fuse at the office.
- Donna is at her wits’ end with her husband. She tries to communicate with him, has asked that they go to counseling and tries to be supportive of his needs. He is unresponsive to all of her efforts, and she is getting angrier and angrier.
Both of the clients in these examples had blind spots that, when identified, shifted the situations forward dramatically. In the first example, John had a personal standard around what “pulling your weight” looked like. For John, that meant being focused on his tasks while at work, keeping socializing to a minimum, meeting deadlines and staying at the office until 6:30 every night. It turned out that for John’s team members, “pulling your weight” meant contributing innovative ideas, being part of a supportive culture (which included an element of socializing at the office), and working on tasks as a team. John’s blind spot was that his team members actually viewed John as the one not pulling his weight, and resented his constant irritability and blaming. John was playing by different rules, and expecting his colleagues to not only know his rules, but to abandon the group’s rules, and play by his instead.
This was a game which was both unwinnable and unhappy. Once John saw his role in the unhappiness, he was able to make a choice about joining the game that was available, or leaving his position to find a job where the game being played by the team was more compatible with his natural style. Recognizing that he was at choice created a level of acceptance that was not previously possible, and he was able to find a way to be part of his existing team.
In the second example, Zelda could not understand why all her sincere efforts at improving her relationship with her husband were being ignored. Her blind spot was that she came from the perspective that of course her husband valued their relationship as much as she did, and that of course he would want to make it as wonderful as it could be. What she hadn’t heard was that he had moved past the place of dissatisfaction with the marriage to a place of not wanting the marriage. He had told Zelda this, and was expecting them to be getting the process of divorce going.
Zelda’s resistance/denial of this message kept her in a place of blaming her husband for not doing something he’d already told her he wasn’t going to do, as well as setting herself up for constant hurt and disappointment by continuing to show up to play a game without anyone to play with. When she saw that her blind spot of not hearing her husband saying the marriage was over was actually a source of her husband’s cold front, Zelda found that her acceptance opened up their communication again as they confronted what the next steps for them would be.
How do you know if you’re in a blind spot? Feelings of self-righteousness or justification are often running rampant, as are blame and feeling misunderstood. You might feel helpless, as you’ve tried everything to improve a situation, and others Just Don’t Get It.
Here are some steps toward bringing light to a blind spot:
- Notice when you’re angry or frustrated.
- Ask yourself what you’re resisting or denying about that situation (avoid wondering what someone ELSE is resisting or denying – keep the focus on yourself)
- What might your resistance be triggering in other people? Does that take you back to the first step of anger or frustration on your part?
- If you shifted from resistance to acceptance, would the original situation that made you angry still have the same sting?
When a blind spot comes to light, it can be an incredibly humbling feeling. Be gentle with yourself, as we all have blind spots, all the time. Growth as a human being is about learning from them, moving past the current ones, and using that learning to deepen our relationships and our ability to be effective in the world. Having an outside perspective and partner such as a coach makes this endeavor flow more easily, and can help shift the perspective to one of discovery.
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