Leaders Are Open to Seeing Their Blind Spots

We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve wanted to merge into an adjacent lane on the interstate. We do our due diligence by checking our mirrors and being aware of our surroundings. When we see the coast is clear, we begin to merge. Then we swing back into our original lane as the horn of the car beside us starts to blare.

The car was in our blind spot. We checked, but we just didn’t see them there. Behavioral blind spots work the same say. Blind spots “cause you to fail to recognize that emotions, such as fear and distrust, change how you and others interpret and talk about reality. You think you understand and remember what others say, when you really only remember what you think about what they say” (Psychology Today, 2017).

This is the final post on our series about the Four Horsemen. All four horsemen—criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness—often happen because they are blind spots. Over the years, they’ve become natural responses we’ve used for self-protection, and we don’t know when we are using them.

Emotional flooding leads to blind spots.

Emotional flooding, aka emotional hijacking, happens when we psychologically go into fight-flight-or-freeze mode. Physical symptoms include sweating, increased heart rate, flushing, clammy palms, and increased breathing. Cognitively, you stop listening to the other person, you begin forming your own response(s), automatic negative thoughts reign, and you begin viewing the other person as a threat. When this happens, our natural responses are criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and/or defensiveness. Because they’re automatic, we don’t realize we’re doing them. And as we’ve previously discussed, these behaviors hurt our relationships.

Making blind spots visible.

When we try to merge into an adjacent lane and are pushed back into our original lane because another vehicle was in our blind spot, we become hyper-aware of our surroundings. For most of us, driving is an intuitive process. Unless the weather is bad, there is a lot of road construction, or we are in an unfamiliar environment, we don’t think too much about the process of driving.

This is also true of our conversations with others. Unfortunately, though, because the stakes of making a conversational mistake are generally not life or death, we don’t become hyper-aware in inclement conversational weather; instead, we continue to plow through the warning signs. We merge into the adjacent lane anyway.

Sticking with the car-merging analogy, the only way we know we are about hit a car in the other lane is when they honk at us, right? They’re in our blind spot; we don’t see them. Therefore, they have to make themselves known. The same is true with our conversational/relational blind spots—someone has to tell us.

Leadership takes large doses of humility and trust.

Ouch. No one enjoys their flaws being pointed out to them, especially if they don’t see the flaw themselves. Professor Douglas Stone explains blind spots this way: “When someone tries to give us feedback in a blind spot, we usually reject it as simply wrong—not because we’re being irrationally defensive, but because, to us, it actually seems wrong. It leaves us feeling confused, because we wonder what would cause others to give us feedback that is so off target?”

Others see us differently than we see ourselves. Therefore, it is important for leaders who lead others to be open to feedback concerning their blind spots. This may require a conversation where the leader asks for this type of feedback.

If blind spots are not pointed out to us, we run the risk of unknowingly and unintentionally hurting our relationships.

Thanks for reading,

DeAnne Negley

2 Responses

  1. Jared Baldwin
    | Reply

    This is convicting but accurate! “Ouch” and “Thank you.”

    • Alan Feirer
      | Reply

      Same here!

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