Blind Spot analysis

November 28, 2009

A blind spot is anything that, because of your identity and experience and location, you cannot see or understand. This week, I was the after-meeting speaker for an association. The topic was one of my favorites, Developing Conflict Competence.

As usual, it was an interactive session in which the audience members used the information to consider their own situations. One man in the audience was particularly engaged in the discussion. His appearance is important to the story. He was a retired, white man, over six feet tall, fit and imposing. He made the point that a lot of getting along with people was just being friendly and polite. To make the point, he related that he usually greeted everyone, even strangers in cities he visited, and they almost always returned his greeting. This, he declared, proved his point that we can all contribute to better inter-personal relationships. It was a terrific reinforcement of the talk I was giving.

Then, the man decided to test whether I used the same technique to get along with people. He posed this question: when I travel, do I greet people, such as those standing waiting for the elevator with me. I replied that I frequently greet strangers but might not in the scenario he had chosen. He looked dismayed and challenged that I selectively greeted people, suggesting that I was less committed to good interpersonal relationships than he. The rest of the audience looked somewhat confused, although I can’t say for sure what they made of the exchange at that point.

So, I explained my reply. When I travel it is usually during the week when the people I am likely to meet in elevators are also business travelers. Therefore, the person standing at the elevator with me is likely to be a working male; that is, a man between late teens and late sixties. If I were to give him the big smile and hearty greeting that the man in the audience had described as his way of being friendly, the man at the elevator might just as possibly think I was making an advance or trying to hit on him. In other words, in the context, I might edit my usually friendliness to be socially appropriate for my identity, experience and location.

The man in the audience looked stunned. He said: “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Indeed, he might not have. That does not make it less real for those of us who are women traveling alone. I assured him it was a very real consideration. He varied his surprised response: “I never thought of that.”

That’s his blind spot. He has never had reason to think what it might be like for women considering his identity, experience and location is different. There are so many places in which we have blind spots about many things. Doing a Blind Spot Analysis to determine what you are blind to, can help develop your conflict competence. There are applications of Blind Spot Analysis in any area in which you might have conflicts.

At a recent conference where I was a key note speaker, I overheard a conversation between someone eager to deny global climate change and someone from the far North who is living with the consequences of melting ice and diminishing sea life. The former worked in oil and gas, while the latter was a– government employee north of the 60th parallel. The one’s identity as an –˜Oil Man’ and location in a major city that is hub to the industry, made him blind to the experience that the Northern government employee was trying to explain. The urban dweller had no context for understanding the lived experience of the remote North.

We all have blind spots. There are very serious issues in the 21st century, with lots of potential for conflict embedded in those problems. Blind spots– add denial into the conflict while– reducing the knowledge available for solutions to emerge. If you hear yourself denying or questioning whether someone else’s stated reality and knowledge and experience is right – because it is so different from your own,  then,  perhaps, it’s time to conduct your own Blind Spot Analysis.

1 Comment

  1. MichaelKi says:

    Some, however, learn over time that one of the most effective ways of avoiding blind spots is simply learning to listen. If instead of focusing strictly on making a decision your primary goal is understanding what others are telling you, the decision you make will inevitably be a more informed and better one. In conducting such data-gathering sessions, it is essential that you hide your biases and simply work to get the information you want.