We all have Communication Blind Spots—aspects of our spoken or written behaviours that get in our way but are easy to overlook or underestimate: gossiping, interrupting, or undermining a colleague. We keep doing these things because everybody does, but they take a toll.
Should we aspire toward verbal saintliness or some sage-like contemplation before every utterance? Certainly not. But everyone (author included) could step up to the next level of awareness. The good news is that simply by noticing our troublesome behaviors, a little circuit begins to grow that connects our conscious minds to our lips. Without much effort on our part, the transformation begins.
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Here we will explore three typical Communication Blind Spots. For each, we consider the following:
- The current state of affairs (the Problem)
- Some helpful questions to heighten awareness (the Self-Talk)
- An action step you can take right now to excise this habit from your interpersonal routine (the Assignment).
You may remember as a child going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned. To clearly see the plaque that was dulling your otherwise radiant smile, the hygienist would have you chew a little red pill, which tinged the plaque pink. Now that the plaque stood out, it could now be brushed away.
- The Problem is the plaque.
- The Self-Talk is the little red pill.
- The Assignment is the brush.
When you finish, unclip your little paper-towel bib . . . and rinse.
1. The Problem: Rona, the project manager, said she would overnight the proposal by Thursday. Carla, the client, said the contract would get faxed by five. Daddy David said he would be at the tap recital come heck or high water. But, on the way to FedEx, Rona stopped at the Verizon store “for just a sec,” but the traffic was awful, and she missed the cutoff time. Carla didn’t account for meeting schedules and couldn’t wrangle the approvals she needed until later in the week. Daddy David received a phone call from the company’s biggest sponsor and couldn’t say no to the changes they wanted to the presentation.
These folks are not villains. They have fallen prey to the Communication Blind Spot of overpromising—the failure to achieve alignment between word and deed. Anyone who continues a relationship with an over-promiser must develop an inner interpreter to decode his or her statements:
“I’ll have the report to you by Thursday,” translates into “End of business Friday would probably still be OK.”
“I saw an article you would like, and I’ll send it to you next week,” becomes “I want you to know you were on my mind.”
“Let’s do lunch” really means “Goodbye.”
2. The Self-Talk: Am I making trustworthy promises to my clients, coworkers, and family? Do I abuse the word “soon” at home, as in, “Soon we will go to the park” or “Soon I will make cookies with you”? Am I creating project timelines according to reality or an implausible best-case scenario? How long is my things-to-do-today list? Do I know any mere mortal who could sanely accomplish these tasks in a single day of work, or am I overpromising to myself?
3. The Assignment: Mull more! Practice the following question until it flows with ease: “May I take 24 hours to make sure I can commit and get back to you?”
1. The Problem: It’s COVID-19. It’s global warming. It’s the mistakes my parents made. And don’t get me started on the cable company, the government, or my neighbor. Blame, like cigarettes, jelly donuts, and reality TV, takes the edge off, but it does nothing to address the deeper issue. In addition to being totally unproductive, blame hogs all the brain space where the problem might be solved, leaving us paralyzed.
2. The Self-Talk: How am I contributing to the problem for which I am blaming someone? How would I argue the issue from their point of view? Who is the identified scapegoat in my team or office? Is the story we tell about them being magnified over time?
3. The Assignment: Accountability is a big interpersonal turn-on. Recall the last time you directed blame at someone else. What is one positive action you could have taken instead to prevent or alleviate the problem? Ask your family if you tend to blame at home. Give yourself 10 bonus points for bravery if you actually do this—50 points if you don’t deflect the answer.
Related: 3 types of People Who Get Stuck
1. The Problem: A famous Jewish scholar, Rabbi Simcha Bunim, said every person should have two slips of paper in their pockets. On one should be written, “The world was created for me.” On the other: “I am but dust and ashes.” The trick is to know which slip of paper to read at which time. Ego can be a healthy support but run amok it puts you at the risk of entitlement—that feeling of having the right to say whatever you feel, even if it impinges on or condescends to others.
2. The Self-Talk: Do I talk down to people? When I give my friends and family advice, have they asked, or am I assuming my wisdom is welcome? Is my professional attitude one of status-seeking or of service? Do I treat my kids as full-fledged humans or as subjects in my kingdom?
3. The Assignment: Listen for one day with the following focus: Pretend the person speaking is about to say something that you do not understand. The goal is to listen without jumping in, advising, interpreting, or letting yourself think you know better. Experience the shift in how the conversation feels when your ego is set aside. Then try to bottle this patience and humility to bring with you to your next conversation.
You might like this: 5 Steps To Build Greater Self Awareness
Communication Blind Spots fall into one of two categories: commission or omission. Our sampler plate of overpromising, blame, and entitlement has highlighted the former, but let us close with a look at the latter. It is crucial to remember that often the problem is not what we say but what we don’t.
Therefore, I want to leave you with a challenge to tackle the one Communication Blind Spot that can change so much—the omission of thanks. Who deserves one[AB2] in your world today?
This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn