Use Strengths To See Blind Spots

"The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
there is little that we can do
to change
until we notice
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds."
- R.D. Laing, psychiatrist

What is a blind spot? It is data that your mind doesn't take in, just like a blind spot in your car's rearview mirror - something outside of your field of vision. How do we identify blind spots? One quick way is to make a list of your strengths because blind spots and strengths have a ying/yang relationship.

Strengths can be bundled into four major categories - communication, implementation, administration, and vision. Our identity is forged by our strengths. Children quickly learn to use their strengths to get rewards and to avoid punishments. What we are good at carries our careers forward, but paradoxically it is often the cause of our careers stalling.

An example would be "always telling the truth." This strength might be your defining characteristic that others depend on. It can also result in "all good" and "all bad" thinking with no gray area. However, your diplomacy may be underdeveloped and you may also label people who are more diplomatic as "playing politics" or even "liars", consequently you may not listen to what they say or take them seriously, which means you will not have all the data available to you for making informed decisions.

Blind spots come in two general areas - tasks and people. Task related blind spots involve deadlines, scheduling, systems, and capacity. People related blind spots involve communication, motivation, feedback, and empathy. Noticing your blind spots is very difficult because you will literally not pay attention to what you aren't interested in and reject what you dislike. Because you want to identify and solve problems using your strengths, you will overestimate the importance of what you do "see" and underestimate the importance of what is in your blind spot.

The problem with this selective attention is that you will be blind sided by the same predicaments over and over again - like falling into the same hole because you always look up and never look down. Self-awareness is critical, since you need to identify your blind spots to begin to learn how to better meet your goals. Conflict management is a great place to start locating a blind spot because most of us dislike conflict and are motivated to change a negatively repeating pattern. For example, if your strengths are being low key and cooperative you may notice that you do not assert your own interests until after a conflict occurs, and then you become angry or disappointed.

This kind of repeating pattern usually results in "there they go again taking advantage of me" type thoughts. However if you begin to think of these repeating patterns as data pointing to a potential blind spot in asserting your interests, you may begin to say to yourself, "there I go again, not speaking up." Since your behavior is predictable you can prepare in advance to negotiate in your best interests. A great resource to learn more about asserting your interests is The Power of the Positive No by William Urhy.

Unfortunately, blind spots tend to come in clusters and not speaking up is often accompanied by giving mixed messages such as being accommodating and then becoming judgmental about others lack of consideration. Using techniques such as a feedback loop can help you learn how your behavior impacts a situation's outcome.

There are four stages in the classic feedback loop:

  • Data Stage - Noticing patterns of behavior that either move you away from or closer to your goal.
  • Relevance Stage - Paying attention to data that impacts goals which emotionally resonate for you.
  • Choice stage - Recalibrating your behavior to move you closer towards your goal.
  • Response stage - Implementing the new behavior then running a double feedback loop to deepen the learning process.

When you using your strengths you're in your comfort zone. Seeing what you expect to see in order to use these strengths allows you to validate your behavior regardless of what the situation requires. Moving outside your comfort zone and incorporating the data from the feedback loop may feel uncomfortable, difficult and risky. But exploring this data often yields provides surprising insights and strategies.

The ying/yang of strengths and blinds spots never goes away, but learning to be curious about this tension can result in a more accurate assessment of any issue or situation. Learning about your blind spots will help you make intentional choices to be productive and flexible in new ways.