Tag Archives: Feedback

Blind Spots: Danger -Watch Yourself !!

Blind Spot in Rearview Mirror-Image
Blind Spot in Rearview Mirror

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.

Cat Staring at Lion Reflection in the Mirror-Image
Cat Staring at Lion Reflection in the Mirror

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.

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 Johari Window ModeL
The Johari Window Model

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.

Final Thoughts

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

  1. Start paying attention to yourself and notice your thinking, feelings, patterns and behaviors.
  2.  Build connections and relationships with people to help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Ask for feedback and be ready and willing to receive it and make the change(s) where necessary.
  4. 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. So, do not forget to check you blind spots.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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Relationship with Feedback : It’s Complicated

Connecting Heart to Head
Connecting Heart to Head

“It is complicated”- is a relationship status that no one aspires to. It typically speaks to a relationship that is characterized by drama, mixed feelings, and unresolved issues. Yet, when I think about my own history and relationship with feedback- it is complicated are the only words to describe it. If you are like me, you probably have some unresolved issues and questions about feedback. Should I love it or hate it? Should I seek  it, or should I shy away from it? And what should I do with the feedback I have received? Should I act on it, or do I simply discard it if/when the message is not what I want to hear? And what if I do not like or respect the person who gave it to me- is it still legitimate? At one point, does it cross over to – allowing the opinions of other to determine my opinion of myself? These are but a few of the complex questions that surface, as I try to navigate this critical aspect of interpersonal communication and everyday interactions.  

What is Feedback So Difficult?

We cannot grow or improve without feedback. All the research tells us that one’s ability to give and receive effective feedback, is perhaps the single most important way to develop self-mastery and hone the skills needed to successfully lead and manage people and organizations.

And by giving feedback, we help others develop greater self-awareness and understand the behaviors they might need to change or correct. Yet none of this, makes feedback any easier to give or receive. In my personal and professional life, I have felt immense joy from feedback I have received and equally cried many bitter tears from the hurt experienced upon receiving it. I have also observed people at all levels of organizations struggle with- finding the best way(s) to give feedback a coworker or supervisor and deal with the mixed emotions or fall out that feedback can result in, after it has been given and received. So, I get it- the struggle is real for both the givers and receivers of feedback.

How to Get Better at Giving and Receiving Feedback

Given the importance of feedback as a soft skill, I have developed a keen interest in understanding and learning more about what the research says about feedback, with a view of helping myself and others become more comfortable with feedback. Here are a few useful insights to remember as you try to hone your skills and become a better giver and receiver.

Balance between Love and Hate-Image
Balance between Love and Hate
  1. Treat feedback as information: We often attach labels such as positive, negative, constructive, developmental to define the feedback we give and receive. These labels evaluate the content of the feedback and have led some of us to to believe that, feedback messages that highlight the positives are good and feedback that highlights the negatives are bad. As a result, some of us have developed a preference for giving and receiving the type(s) of feedback we want to hear and miss out on opportunities for valuable insights for growth. When we view feedback as information, it encourages us to see feedback as insights on what we did and/or how we are doing (not positive or negative). By so doing, we can use feedback to guide our actions and decisions, reduce some of the anxieties we feel and change our attitudes for the better.
  2.  Separate the message from the messenger: It’s easy to disregard the feedback messages we receive because we do not like or respect the person who gave it. Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant argues that, “how well we receive feedback is determined by our relationship with the giver.” This is true. Our relationship (good or bad) with the giver has a direct impact on how we react to messages we receive. If we trust the person who is giving us feedback, we are much more likely to be open and receptive to the feedback, even if the message is hard to hear. However, if we question the motive(s) of the person giving us feedback, we are just as likely to be more defensive or quick to disregard their feedback. One way of us to improve in this area is to avoid ‘wrong spotting’. Sheila Heen (one of the authors of Difficult Conversation) describes ‘wrong spotting,” as the tendency we have to scan the feedback we receive to find something wrong with it so that we can reject it. Another recommendation is for us to pause and sift through the feedback to determine what is valuable, what we can learn from it and discard the comments that we don’t accept or find useful.
  3.  Value receiving feedback as much as you do giving feedback: We’ve all taken a course or class on feedback. Most of these sessions typically focus on how to give feedback and the common mistakes to avoid, but neglect to help people understand how to receive feedback well. This approach is problematic, because it fails to prepare and equip people with the skills they need to action feedback effectively or use it to grow.

And let’s face it, receiving feedback can be difficult. The feedback we receive can sometimes challenge our insecurities and highlight our deficiencies in ways that threaten how we see our self. When people are not equipped to handle feedback well, communication breaks down, relationships are damaged and performance conversations become a source of staff disengagement.

Instead, we should equally focus on on listening for understanding, ask clarifying questions, say thanks and then spend some time reflecting on what we have heard. This will allow us to respond less emotionally to the feedback and demonstrate to the giver that we are open to feedback, willing to learn and ready to grow

4. Understand your triggers: How well we respond to the difficult feedback we receive and our actions afterwards can have a greater impact on your future career, than the initial feedback given. The key to getting better at receiving feedback is to understand and manage the feelings we have about it. In their article, Finding the Coaching in Criticism, Sheila Heen & Douglas Stone urges us to try to understand the kind of feedback that pushes our buttons. She points to three triggers that we must seek to manage:

  • Truth triggers– this refers to the advice that seems unhelpful and untrue. It leaves us feeling indignant and wronged.
  • Relationship triggers -speaks to what we believe about the giver and how you feel about your previous interactions.
  • Identity triggers– are all about your relationship with yourself. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or not, it may cause you to feel defensive and has the potential to be most devastating. Once we are able to understand our triggers, we will be in a better position to manage them.

5. Ask for Feedback – Feedback is a gift. The same feedback that can make us feel so horrible is the same information that can push us forward. Some of us work in environments and teams where we do not get enough feedback from our supervisors and peers. And we develop blind spots that undermine our personal effectiveness and magnify our gaps. Managers are not immune from these problems either. The research says, the higher up you go in an organization, the less feedback you receive. So, senior managers are often suffering from a lack of feedback. To address these problem, here are two suggestions:

  •  Ask for it– Asking someone for feedback on how you are doing can be scary and awkward. So start by asking for one thing.” Start by asking a colleague or supervisor- what is one thing you see me doing or failing to do that holds me back?
  • Build a challenge network– We all have that circle of friends we call for support and comfort when things go wrong. The challenge network is the opposite. Building a challenge network requires that you to identify one person (Not a friend) on the team(s) you’re a part of that you trust and give permission to provide you with feedback on how you are showing up. Develop this network and check in often. This is guaranteed to give you a perspective you wouldn’t otherwise have and great information to propel your growth.

Feedback is a gift. Be kind and always say thank you. 

 Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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