Do you have a blind spot?

A businessman walks at La Defense business and financial district in Courbevoie near Paris.

People are so attached to being right, and yet the tragedy is it could be so easy to find out how you're wrong. Image: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Paolo Gallo
Adjunct Professor Bocconi University, Founder Compass Consulting, Executive Coach
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"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, when you do not see the plank in your own?"

This famous phrase from the Gospel of Luke captures a basic truth: what we see in others, we cannot or do not want to see in ourselves.

We all have blind spots, and we all need to improve our self-awareness. I still remember an innocent joke played on me when I was in first grade. As is traditional on April 1st, someone stuck a little paper fish to my back: all my classmates saw it and laughed, except me. It sounds like such a trivial thing, but the feeling that you are unaware of what others are thinking, that they know something about you that you do not, is powerful and destabilizing. A lack of awareness makes us insecure.

The difference between what we think of ourselves, and what others think of us

Self-awareness is one of the defining characteristics of our emotional intelligence: it allows us to act confidently and handle our weaknesses with honesty. Some organizations use a very effective tool to evaluate their managers: the "360-degree assessment", an anonymous system allowing people to score their manager. In general, it paints a very accurate picture, weaving the opinion of lots of different workers into a clear and plausible narrative, while managers are also asked to evaluate their own leadership styles.

I always found it very interesting to watch - and evaluate - the difference between what people think about themselves, and what others think: the greater the difference, the smaller the self-awareness. In these cases it is essential to discover our blind spots. In fact, when people get their feedback, they usually jump to see their score or - I am not joking - they want to know who gave them "low grades" and get their revenge, or else they become totally paranoid. A certain proverb springs to mind:

"If one person believe that you are a fool, laugh: if 10 people believe that you are a fool, think".

If we have the opportunity to work with a coach or to be evaluated with instruments such as 360-degree feedback, the best approach is to listen carefully to what we are told, think about what this tells us about the limits of our self perception and reflect about the way we relate to others.

What is your blind spot?

In this respect, it can be helpful to use the “Johari window model”, developed in 1955 by the American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham - who combined their first names to name their diagram. The structure helps people to identify and address their blind spots.

Fresh out of college, I had a job interview with a company: it went well, I was sure that they were going to offer me the role. To my surprise they did not, so I called the company, as I wanted to understand why. They told me that I seemed more interested in being perceived as a friend than in getting results. This sentence hit me like an arrow to the heart.

I could not change their opinion - you never have a second chance to create a first impression - but, since then, I have changed my strategy in interviews. If I had not asked, I would never have known.Asking for honest feedback with a pinch of humility will increase our awareness exponentially. So, make it part of your routine: continuously ask for feedback.

It may hurt a bit, but you might even realise that people notice in you qualities that you don't suspect you had, and in any case you will avoid repeating the same old mistakes. As the American businessman and investor Ray Dalio said:

People are so attached to being right, and yet the tragedy is it could be so easy to find out how you're wrong.

From the bible to a business tycoon to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who wrote that “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” self-awareness is seen as a crucial plank in personal and professional development. Instead of rushing through our day-to-day lives without taking time to reflect, we need to identify the blind spots that make us vulnerable. We need to think in depth, and not just at speed.

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