Sneaky blind spots

Blind spots. What a misleading name.

It gives the impression that you just need to look at it — and bam, problem solved, you are now aware of your hidden weakness.

Blind spots are more sneaky than that. They can hide in plain sight. You can even pay attention to them, only to forget about them a couple of days later.

Here’s an example. I attended a training a month ago. It included intense team activities, and in-depth feedback sessions from each of the team members you were working with.

Today, I tried to summarize what I got out of this training. A couple of key insights came up, and I was ready to act upon them. But instead, I decided to doubt my memory, and to read my notes. In particular, I re-read the feedback I received from the other 6 team members. And there it was, a beautiful blind spot, that I had totally forgot about already.

The blind spot is: when in situation of stress (uncertainty, time constraint, fatigue), I talk in a way that shuts down others. The tone, the speed of speech, the body language, the arguments used, everything conveys a coherent message, which you could summarize by « Discussion time is over, let’s move on ». All 6 team members mentioned it, in different ways, with different examples. Every single example was hard to argue with. At the time, I don’t remember discarding the feedback. On the contrary, I remember accepting it fully, thinking « how come I’ve been able to come this far without being aware of that blind spot ».

Yet, a month later, it was already gone from my spontaneous memory.

Why is that? Well, I would argue that this blind spot has one major feature playing against me integrating it. It clashes with a part of my identity that I value. See, I pride myself in being a servant leader, someone who puts other people in front, who listens a lot, who applies empathy to conflicts. And a classic confirmation bias probably makes me remember all the moments in which, indeed, I act this way. The ideal identity is reinforced by those moments, and those moments come naturally because of this identity.

When I don’t behave according to my ideal identity, I’m stressed. I fall back to less intentional behavior, and I’m not even self-aware of it, so I don’t pay attention to those moments. And when attention is brought to those moments, I can listen, I can sincerely accept the feedback, but it has nothing to hang to. My memory is full of moments that claim the opposite. Memory works by association: you gain additional knowledge by associating it with existing knowledge. It is very hard to retain knowledge that is entirely foreign to anything I know.

How do you address that? I have no idea.

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