Blind spots. We all have them. When you’re driving your car, you intuitively know that there are objects that you can’t see. In life, we’re often not as tuned in. We see based on our own experiences, assumptions and opinions. And, sometimes what we see is either completely wrong or slightly askew. Throw in gender, geography, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and it can feel like you’re hopping over mine fields. While comedians joke about political correctness every day, when we’re navigating the workforce, sometimes we’re just looking for a field manual.
Let’s turn to some research by John Gray, consultant and corporate coach, and author of “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus,” and Barbara Annis, expert on gender in the workplace and chair of the women’s leadership board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. For their book, “Work with Me, The Eight Blind Spots between Men and Women in Business,” they interviewed over 100,000 men and women all over the world from over 60 companies. While they focused on gender, blind spots often go beyond gender.
Before we dive into our blind spots, let’s start with an old assumption about equality. Gray and Annis assert that equality is not about sameness. Instead, equality is about understanding and respecting differences. Think of the saying about walking a mile in another man’s moccasins (written by a woman in 1895). High heels. Sneakers. Birkenstocks. Pick a shoe. We’re all unique and we need to respect that and acknowledge that we all see life through a different lens.
Do these blind spots sound familiar?
1. Destination vs. Journey
Do you like to get to results quickly or is it more important to you how you got there? This is often a common blind spot between men and women at work. While many men like to “move on and get ‘er done,” women often want to acknowledge where they’ve come from and process how they got there. Think of the meetings where the train is running down the track quickly, the result is just ahead and then…someone bravely questions where it is going and why. There is no right or wrong here–both a conductor and engineer are needed on the train. Make sure you see and listen to them both.
In their interviews, Gray and Annis found that 79% of men feel that they have to be careful around women and indirect when giving feedback. Many said they were “walking on eggshells.” Eighty-two percent of the women interviewed said that they wanted more direct feedback.
This is where actions have to follow words. If I ask for feedback and you give it to me, I need to be ready to accept it and open to counsel. This is where trust is critical in a work environment. Feedback is difficult to give and receive when trust isn’t there. So, if there are eggshells on your team, ask yourself how you can build trust.
This is an oldie, but a goody. Men think women ask too many questions. Women feel questions are important. This is one that obviously goes way beyond gender and gets into personal styles. When we’re working together, first we need to have the self-awareness to know who we are. If you’re the person who likes to ask questions, respect the frustration of the person who feels you’re slowing them down. Also, remember, questions not only signal interest and intention, they also help us to understand people and situations. So, whether you are talking to a customer, your colleague or your spouse, questions are key to understanding.
4. Are you listening?
What makes people feel small, insignificant, unimportant and devalued? Not being heard.
Being a master at listening is being a master communicator. In all aspects of our lives, listening makes all relationships better and richer. Just ask any marriage counselor and you’ll hear it again and again: great relationships are grounded in communication. And the unspoken hero of communication (literally) is listening. This can be a deadly blind spot because it not only affects how people view you, but also how you make them feel.
5. Appreciation & Inclusion
Here’s some homework for you as you drive home tonight or when you jump on your treadmill. Ask yourself these questions:
Do the people in your life (work and personal) feel valued?
Do they feel included in what you are doing? Do they think you care what they are doing?
Do they feel heard? Do you stop texting or typing when you are listening? Do you unplug when your attention is needed?’
Do you respect and value the differences of the people you work with and the people you love?
In the words of Mary T. Lathrap from her 1895 poem entitled, “Judge Softly”:
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity. Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.