With so many layers to self-awareness, it sometimes seems unreasonable to expect ourselves to practice this EQ virtue with any level of refinement. For instance, if you read my recent article Life Is Like A Wave On The Sand, you may have discovered that living in the present, which requires a dynamic sense of self-awareness, is one of the greater EQ challenges you’ll face in your career. I hope, however, that I left you with a sense of optimism that you can overcome the challenge by practically applying the lessons offered.
On that note, let me acquaint you with yet another barrier to self-awareness. With as much energy as we spend trying to see the world clearly, our unconscious biases still manage to cloud the view. Worse still, when we interpret what we see and hear, we often misinterpret. It is this misinterpretation that registers in the brain as actual, and misinforms us going forward. This creates blind spots in our perspective, which never get filled in unless we take the initiative to discover them.
I wrote about managing our blind spots and unconscious biases last year in my article I Once Was Blind. Today, let me share some examples of how our blind spots can impact our outlooks and impair our communications, and how being vigilant about our self-awareness can solve or prevent the challenges we could potentially face.
“Conclusions Were Drawn.”
Did you know that nine out of 10 conversations miss their mark? The problem can be traced directly to the biased conclusions we draw. Your brain says, “I think I understand what she’s saying”, but you actually don’t. A more truthful statement might sound a little something like, “I hear her words, but I’m applying my own history and biases to them.” Many of us listen through the filter of our own agendas, interpreting others’ messages to neatly align with our goals rather than listening to what’s actually being said.
To paint a picture for yourself about how drastically different people’s interpretations can be, take the concept of a “laid-back Sunday”. For me, this might include sleeping in until noon and watching sports on TV, while your idea of the very same phrase has you sleeping in until 7:30am, getting ahead on computer work until noon, taking a challenging hike, catching up by phone with an old friend or relative, and then preparing a glorious meal. When such wildly different interpretations are silently applied to business conversations, it’s easy to see how communication breakdowns might result.
When we get comfortable with letting our blind spots chip away at our self-awareness, we may start to assume that our ideas are the same as everyone else’s. Take the example of luxury and celebration. I can recall during my restaurant ownership days, when I used to plan off-site weddings, how some brides-to-be would scrutinize and agonize over the menu choices. They wanted all their favorite dishes to be served, despite my advice about such an impulsive decision. Since they, themselves, would only be eating one entrée on the big day, why not make all the other menu selections diverse in a manner that would please their guests? Sometimes, self-awareness should include awareness of others. And it should certainly be informed by the feedback of someone with experience.
Our brain is known to play tricks on us. Have you ever seen sentences with words missing, but upon reading the sentence, you know exactly what you think the author is trying to say? This happens with stories, too. When you hear a story, do you adapt the imagery to your own history and then fill in the gaps to fit your past experiences? This might be perfectly appropriate when reading poetry or fiction. But taking the liberty to superimpose someone else’s story or statement over you own bias-laden template is a self-awareness blind spot that you’ll need to address before you find yourself in a sticky situation.
Every 8 to 18 seconds, we get distracted. It’s just a fact of life and career. We get lost in another train of thought, and when we catch ourselves, there’s still no reward— it can take up to 23 minutes to get back on track, during which the mind fills in the gaps in unforeseen ways. This is demonstrated aptly by a professional who participates in my weekly OfficeHours webinars as part of the DRIVEN to Leadership program. During the sessions, she is fully-engaged and contributing in real time rather than multi-tasking. She then listens to a recording of each session a few days later, each time amazed at just how much she had missed despite her initial immersion. Through this exercise, she sought to uncover her own blind spots and succeeded, thereby actually reaping the reward she was otherwise denied. Talk about a valuable lesson in self-awareness!
Let’s continue this EQ discussion in my next article, which will examine the impact that stress can have on self-awareness.
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