Think about the first time you got behind the steering wheel to drive a car. You performed all the basic safety procedures to operate the vehicle safely and to keep you and other drivers safe on the road. As you drove off the vehicle, your instructor probably warned or reminded you to be careful and to check your blind spot. In driving, a blind spot is that the area around the vehicle that the driver cannot see from the driver’s seat. Every driver knows that, attempting to merge or change lanes without checking your blind spot is dangerous and can possibly lead to collision or a serious accident with another vehicle on the road.
The problem with blind spots
Just as with cars, all of us have blind spots. Blind spots refer to unrecognized areas of weaknesses that we all have, that can potentially harm our relationships, overall effectiveness, and chances for personal and professional success. The real issue with blind spots is that – most of us are walking around and interacting every day without any awareness and knowledge of what our blind spots are. And while some of us might be unaware of our blind spots, or may not even want to admit them, these behaviors are usually very obvious to the people around us- our friends, coworkers and family who observe and experience daily. So just as in driving, where we need to frequently check our mirrors for your blind spot, we need other people to “hold up the mirror for us.”
Another problem with blind spots that makes them hard to recognize is that- a blind spot could easily be related to a personality characteristic that we consider to be a strength. For example, people like me who describe themselves as assertive, confident and outgoing, can be easily be perceived by others as arrogant and ‘pushy’. A child that loves to organize and suggest the games she plays with her friends, can be viewed as “bossy.” A person who is reserved and cautious about risk might be seen as inflexible and not open to new ideas. This is because any strength that is overused or misused, can become a weakness. When we overuse a strength, what matters most is not what we intended, but the effects that our words or actions had on others. Perception then becomes the reality and can lead to situations where we are misunderstood, or we misunderstand others.
The importance of self-awareness
How well do you know yourself? According to Harvard Business Review, most people believe that they are self-aware, yet only 15-20% of people are. At its simplest, self-awareness is understanding and knowing one’s own feelings, personality, behaviors, and patterns. It is also a crucial aspect of developing our emotional intelligence. When we lack self-awareness, it can work against us and lead to people to make judgements about us, that are different from how we see ourselves. This disconnect can make it incredibly frustrating and difficult for us to build and maintain positive interpersonal relationships in both our personal and professional lives.
In the early days of my own career journey, self-awareness was perhaps my biggest pain point and blind spot. For me, the issue was not that I did not know my strengths and weaknesses. If you had asked me about those, I would have been able to quickly and frankly describe the things I did well and did not. Still, I was experiencing some interpersonal problems with a few of my coworkers that prevented us from getting along well. I had concluded that they did not like me and one day vented my frustrations to a friend, who was also a colleague. She patiently listened to my concerns. After I had finished, she explained to me that- as my friend she knew and understood me and my personality. Because of that, when I behaved in a particular way, she was never offended because she understood me and what my motives were.
However, she went on to share that whenever I was knowledgeable and passionate about something, I was very direct and assertive in communicating my opinions and ideas. She further explained that- this could be interpreted by others as intimidating, arrogant and that sometimes, I did come across “a bit too strongly.” I was surprised and shocked by her feedback and had a hard time accepting it. But deep down, I also trusted her and knew it was true. Her feedback certainly explained why- despite my best efforts I was not having the impact I wanted and was not working effectively with those members of the team. The feedback left me feeling confused and frustrated. How could my strengths- self-confidence, outgoing personality and assertiveness show up as a weakness? Her feedback had revealed a blind spot and I knew then that I would need to do some things differently.
Becoming more self -aware– The Johari Window
So how do you improve your self-awareness? In my previous post about feedback, I wrote about how many of us struggle to accept any information we believe to be negative or critical. The less open we are to receiving feedback, the more likely it is that we will lack self-awareness and be blindsided by our blind spots. One technique that could help us develop our self-awareness and minizine our blind spots is the Johari Window. The Johari Window (diagram below) breaks down self-awareness into two categories (Things known and unknown about you to other people and things known and unknown about you to yourself) and four areas: open, blind, hidden, and unknown.
The goal of the Johari Window is for us to improve our self-awareness by increasing the open area of our window by shrinking our blind, hidden, and unknown areas.
- Open Area: In this area, you will find the information you know about yourself and others do. This is information that we voluntarily disclose and is usually public knowledge.
- Blind Area: Here you will find information that you do not know about yourself, but others do. This is also the area where our blind spots live, and we rely on others to share this information with us.
- Hidden Area: This area has information that you know about yourself and others do not. This include the things that you consider to be private or anything you believe will make you vulnerable to others.
- Unknown Area: This area represents the things that are unknown to you and others. This is an area that is good for self-discovery and provide you with opportunities to learn a new skill or develop a new interest or hobby outside of our comfort zone.
While we get to decide how big or small the areas in our window are, the more we increase our open area, the more effective we become in our relationships at work at home. I know you might be thinking that you do not want people to know everything about you. Afterall, putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to others can be hard and risky. But, when we open ourselves to others and share our values, goals, and experiences, we build trust, forge stronger connections, and learn more about our own feeling and emotions. So as a next step, try the following tips to help you to continue to improve your self-awareness and minimize your blind spots
- Start paying attention to yourself and notice your thinking, feelings, patterns and behaviors.
- Build connections and relationships with people to help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses.
- Ask for feedback and be ready and willing to receive it and make the change(s) where necessary.
- Be patient and compassionate with others even when their behaviors frustrate you. You might be looking at their blind spots, but yours are just as visible to others too.
Until next time, do not forget to check your blind spots and remember, It’s A Learning Life!