You said what?!

Blind businessman

What really happens when we communicate


As my husband and I sit on Saturday mornings with our coffees, we will be chatting about something – and all of a sudden our dog, Josee, will hop to her feet with excitement. We are often left wondering what we said that may have sounded like “walk” or “treat” or some other important word that Josee loves. While this example with Josee is inane, when similar communication challenges happen in the workplace, they can set the stage for team dysfunction if not recognized and dealt with in a timely and effective manner.

As communicators, we often think that we are clear and easily understood, however our listeners, like Josee, can often walk away with a completely different understanding or in complete confusion. Given that approximately 70% of workers avoid difficult conversations that are often the outcome of miscommunication, these simple examples when chronic, can result in missed deadlines, lost time, and absenteeism. Being a solid communicator requires us to be self-aware and also be able to understand the reaction of the other person.

So let’s talk about a common Communication Blind Spoteveryone thinks the same way that I do. We often have an assumption that our worldview is shared by all. Our brain’s tendency is to think that our perceptions are shared by others. Isn’t obvious how I got to the conclusion that I arrived at in any given situation? Well, no it is not.

Every time we have a conversation, we are listening through our vast storehouse of life experiences. Believe it or not, like Josee, we hear what we think we hear. And our experiences are different than others simply because of our life experiences. In our brains, we have a bias of listening for what is similar to our past experiences and we make assumptions based on our life experiences.

So if you hear yourself saying “doesn’t everyone know …” or “isn’t it obvious that…” then you are caught in this blind spot. Here are 3 tips to help you:

  1. Recognize that you have made an assumption. Name it and then ask the other person what they understood – and how they perceive the situation. Listen intently for things that are different than your perspective and acknowledge them.
  2. Ask what they feel would be the best solution given their way of looking at the world. The best solutions come forward when team members with different perspectives open up and hear each other, then through the many rich experiences, a new solution can arise.
  3. When you are listening to others, recognize your assumptions and biases and name them. Then make sure that you paraphrase what you have heard and request that they clarify if you misunderstood them.

Blind spots in human behaviour are common and can result in confusion and conflict as individual team members will often feel unheard and devalued. However, when these very same blind spots are fully explored and understood the results will be innovative solutions and a highly functioning team dynamic.

Stay tuned for the next Blind Spot and solutions to it in our upcoming blog.

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