Groupwork Centre Blog

Look! It’s a blind spot

I found a blind spot and had a good look around

I was feeling uncomfortable. My gut was telling me something was wrong, but I couldn’t see or hear what it was. I could only feel the presence of an obstruction, a blockage that needed my attention.

My training led me instinctively to the Wise One. My inner facilitator. He responded in the same all-knowing way as usual, with calm authority. But rather than leading me directly to a path forward, he merely suggested I take time to reflect. The answer will come. This was new! I paused for a breath and realised I had no choice, I had to take some time out.   

The challenge had come from a colleague, unhappy with my approach to a problem. But this is what I do, this is my background, my life’s work, a voice told me. 

It was an editing and writing task. Too easy. I’d been doing this for decades as a journalist, a writer and a book editor. I listened to my colleague’s concerns, acknowledged what I had heard and then talked through my approach and the reasons for it. And yet, I was still meeting opposition. Worse, I couldn’t find any common ground to navigate a way through. I knew at that point I had stumbled onto something that needed investigating. Something big.

I withdrew not just from the task at hand but from the entire role, temporarily, and left it with my colleague. I knew they would do a good job and the time out would allow me to explore this mysterious obstruction. 

The Community of Selves model of self-awareness we use at Groupwork Centre was helpful, but only up to a point. My Wise One had alerted me that this was something new. It may have originated in a loud voice in my head, a “self” clamouring to drive my bus. But if the Wise One appeared to be at the wheel, what was obscuring my path?  

I had encountered a blind spot. 

Ahaa, I thought, this is what those tricky blind spots can do to you. Throw you off the best path, leaving a mess to clear up in your wake.

I’d heard the term bandied about in facilitation circles for years. “Seems you have a blind spot,” a colleague might say. But I had never heard it taken any further. As if we all knew instinctively to swivel around, see what was fast approaching in the next lane and take appropriate action.

Trouble is, I didn’t know what to do. I suspect many of us don’t, including those like me who’ve been trained to dive deep into their inner dialogue as a first step to resolving tricky encounters.

I had to park my bus for a bit and take a walk in the forest. There’s no better place for reflection. 

With an open mind and a brave heart, I stepped into the inner sanctum to sit and to drink from the pool of wisdom. I read learned articles in psychology journals, bought a New York Times bestseller from two professors at Harvard and talked to some experts. What I learned blew my mind.

Yes, blind spots are common. We all encounter them, far more of them and more often than we realise. They are part of the human condition. Why they exist is a bigger question, and I won’t go there now. Suffice to say they are part of our biological evolution to help us quickly assess risk and reward. They served us well at some point. However, like all shortcuts, they come with their own risks. 

Some of the most commonly known and encountered blind spots, which are referred to by the experts as unconscious bias, will be familiar to you. This is where we impose a cultural norm, expectation or bias on others, for whom it may be unhelpful or even harmful. 

We white anglo-celtic men – and those we work with – will be familiar with this type of blind spot. It’s an awkward discovery the first few times. Oh right, by equating success with hard work and dedication, rather than access to education, power and resources, I sideline most women of colour. Oops. Try that a different way, mate.

There are many more subforms of unconscious bias, some of which are trickier to locate and navigate. One of my personal favourites (there’s another story there, but not for now) is wilful denial. This is where a problem looms so large that to acknowledge its mounting toll on us is to open a can of worms too big to contemplate. A telltale sign is a short and entirely unconvincing response to a friend or colleague showing concern for our wellbeing during a time of stress. “I’m fine.

On my journey of discovery into my own particular blind spot, which had prevented me from working productively with a valued colleague, I uncovered a set of triggers that sprang from troubling previous encounters. 

This period of reflection was richly rewarding. I was able to see how I had arrived at this blind spot, and what I could do to untangle the messy situation it landed me in.

In the workshop on 28 June (9.30am-1.30pm) we create a safe space to explore our blind spots and use some tools to help us navigate them, click here for more information.

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