Watch Your Blind Spot!

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Several years ago while I was living in South Korea, I met my parents in Hawaii for a short vacation.  Since I was scheduled to arrive considerably earlier than my family coming from the mainland, my father suggested I pick up the rental car and check out Honolulu, which I thought was an excellent idea.

As I was driving around, I made a last-minute decision to get into a left-turn lane.  When I checked, the lane appeared to be clear.  Suddenly, I heard a “thump!” and realized that there was a motorcyclist there!  Clearly I had failed to check my blind spot.  Fortunately, I didn’t injure the driver, but I was quite shaken by the experience.

We are all familiar with the concept of a blind spot while driving, but very few are familiar with mental blind spots.

Step 2 in Mark Goulston and John Ullmen’s connected influence model is listening past your blind spot.  They define your “blind spot” as the condition of being immersed in your own perspective:

Your brain doesn’t merely have a blind spot when it comes to driving; it also has a blind spot when it comes to influencing.  And like a driver who changes lanes without checking to see what’s in the blind spot, you’re dangerous when you’re blinded by your own point of view. (p. 11)

The primary skill needed is “level 4 listening,” but because I have already written a bit about the importance of connective listening, I will focus here on another necessary, yet often overlooked element: “to influence, be influenceable.”

IMG_5249When I talk to clients and friends about being open-minded and influenceable, I tend to get a bit of push-back.  They say they don’t want to be “so opened minded their brain falls out,” and they express concern that being open to others’ ideas means they will have to compromise their values and principles.

However, I have found Goulston and Ullmen’s explanation to be an excellent way of looking at this so-important element of developing influence with another:

Being influenceable isn’t about giving in, giving up, being weak or soft, being scared, or being any less committed to your principles and to achieving excellent results.  And being influenceable doesn’t mean that you’re not going to disagree.

What being influenceable does mean is that you go into every conversation being willing to believe that you may be partially or totally wrong; that the other person may be partially or completely right; and that even if the other person isn’t right, you will learn something valuable from your interaction.

Being influenceable means being both open-minded and open-hearted.  People tend to open their minds to people who’ve opened their own minds, and to open their hearts to people who permit themselves to be touched.  When you want to strengthen your influence with others who see things differently, being vulnerable is more potent than being impervious.  (p. 108)

If we truly value people in general, we need to first look for the value they bring to any relationship without imposing our own expectations or perspectives on them.  To me, this is the essence of being open-minded.  Even someone I disagree with violently on most things will have something of value to add to my life.  This doesn’t relieve me of responsibility; being influenceable  means we have greater responsibility to evaluate new ideas as they are presented, but it doesn’t mean we dismiss the people who share those ideas.

This week I dare you to open your mind and your heart to truly hear someone else, especially if that someone has dramatically different views than you do.


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Previous posts on this topic


Building Trust: “Your Here” and “Their There”


In my last post I mentioned a time that I lost my students’ trust.

Air Force Memorial

Air Force Memorial

There were several poor decisions on my part that led to this situation, but the clincher came when my students were presenting their research to the program administration.

I teach in a very intensive program, for both the students and the teachers, and the students end up presenting their research two different times. The first time, they present a research update to their classmates and the program administration, and I know that the stakes are relatively low. The second time, they present the results of their research to a much larger audience, and the stakes are much higher.

The Air Force Memorial

The Air Force Memorial

One year, thinking that my responsibility during the event was merely to manage the technology, I wasn’t at my best the day of the presentations; after all, I wasn’t presenting. I would never do this when I have to teach, but I didn’t think that I would need to be at the top of my game during the presentations.

The technology was managed without a hitch; however, I dropped the ball in a big way in an other area. 

From the perspective of my students, this was the largest audience some of them had presented to, and while compared to the second presentation this was a low-stakes event, in their eyes it was a high-stakes event.  Because I was focused on only my role, I was not emotionally available for them during the event.  Afterwards, at least two students (out of 12) stated that they had felt abandoned by me.

When I was not able to provide the emotional support my students needed, I lost their trust.

In their book Real Influence, Mark Goulston and John Ullmen talk about being stuck in your here without considering their there.  What they mean is that most people tend to be so entrenched in their own perspective that they aren’t able to connect with others, they aren’t able to understand someone else’s perspective.  This was the root of my mistake – I was so focused on my own perspective that I didn’t take into consideration the perspective of my students, and this cost me dearly.  Just like the two pictures featured on this page reflect different perspectives of the same memorial, we have to be aware of the different perspectives the people around us bring to any given situation.

Once my eyes were opened to my “blind spot” – how entrenched in my own perspective I was – I set to work on repairing the lost trust.  This wasn’t easy; it required me to apologize to certain individuals, and it was necessary for me to go the extra mile in showing personal concern for the success of each student in my class.  By the time the second presentation arrived, I had gained enough trust that I was able to coach them to successfully present to the larger audience.

However, the entire situation could have been avoided if I had only taken my students’ perspective into consideration from the start.

In what areas are you stuck in your here?

If you need help identifying their there, I recommend starting to practice connective listening.