He looked at me and chuckled.
“What are you laughing about?”
“It’s just that you've been starting a lot of sentences lately with ‘I’m thinking…’ and I bet you don’t even realize you’re doing it.”
I had no clue. I was completely unaware that I was even saying those words. Until he pointed it out to me.
“Does it bother you?” I asked.
“Well, yes, because I get distracted by the number of times you say it and it’s hard to pay attention to the rest of what you’re saying.”
At first I thought he was being a little picky, and then I remembered something similar that I experienced recently at a picnic.
I was sitting next to a man I’d met before but had not spoken with much. I asked him questions to learn more about his life, and he ended almost every sentence with, “…you know what I mean?” He didn't wait for me to respond yes or no – it was more of a rhetorical question, but I did find his constant use of it a bit distracting. I actually found myself anticipating that phrase and missing some of the words that came before.
As I recalled that situation, my annoyance with Lee’s comment became a learning moment for me. I could honestly tell him that I appreciated his letting me know about the habit I’d picked up, and that I’d work on changing it.
Now it’s become a source of amusement for us, because when I forget and use the phrase, I catch myself, laugh, and change it to something else. And sometimes he starts a sentence with, “I’m thinking…” and I’ll smile and say, “Oh, you are?” And we immediately laugh about it. Turns out we’re catching each other because he picked up the phrase from me!
The truth is, we all have blind spots – words we say or actions we take that have a negative impact on someone else. Sometimes it’s minor, like this situation. But sometimes it’s major.
Like saying hurtful, cruel things to another person and not being aware of the pain that the words inflict.
Or expressing exasperation with your child, a coworker or a customer, and not realizing that your reaction has the opposite effect that you intended. The person is less motivated to do what you want done.
Or using a condescending tone when you’re convinced you’re right and others don’t know what they’re talking about.
The best solution to dissolving blind spots is to make sure you have people in your life who are willing to speak up and tell you the truth about your behavior. If you can’t think of anyone like that, I challenge you to look within and ask why that’s the case.
Think back to a time when someone approached you about something you said or did that created a problem. How did you respond? It’s natural to feel defensive or even angry when you hear feedback that’s different from the way you see yourself. But if you respond with defensiveness or anger, you push away the other person and effectively shut down communication. In the process, you rob yourself of valuable information and damage the relationship.
The next time you are on the receiving end of feedback about one of your blind spots, make the conscious decision to listen calmly and thank them for bringing the behavior to your attention. Then ask what words or actions they want or need from you instead, so you know what they’re looking for.
Remember that when people talk to you about your blind spots, it’s because they care enough about you and the relationship to risk holding up a mirror so you can see yourself as they see you.
“If we can stop, listen and think about what others are seeing in us, we have a great opportunity. We can compare the self that we want to be with the self that we are presenting to the rest of the world. We can then begin to make the real changes that are needed to close the gap between our stated values and our actual behavior.” - Marshall Goldsmith in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There