When it comes to achieving goals, life is likely to throw obstacles in our way. But it isn’t just the outside world that may interfere: we may also hold ourselves back—without being aware that we are.
This is what I mean by blind spots: things about ourselves that we don’t know or have forgotten about that are getting in the way of us realizing our objectives. Here is how to find–and fix–common blind spots.
1. Self-reflection. Take a time out. Take a moment just by yourself during which you won’t be interrupted. Think back to a situation that didn’t go so well for you . It needn’t have been a disaster – just a moment when you knew you were not at your personal best. Observe that experience. Note I am not suggesting you analyze, dissect it or judge it: just hold it for you to take a fresh look at. What were your thoughts during that moment? What feelings did you have?
Just notice what went on for you at this challenging time. No need to berate yourself. Rather, let me invite you to wonder along the following lines: What skills might have been helpful in this situation? What human attributes might have made a positive difference? Answering these questions will point out a skill or attitude deficit, which is simply a human attitude you haven’t cultivated for yourself. While the former can be addressed remedied by relevant training, the latter requires a more intense, but clearly manageable, self-development effort. Engaging in self-reflection is an easy first step to identify internal gaps that hold you back.
2. Feedback. Ask others around you. When are you at your best? And when you are at your best, what do you do? How do you behave? Conversely, what do they see when you’re not at your best? What do they notice about your behavior, your words and your body language? Ask selected colleagues, maybe some clients but of course also ask family and close friends – though they won’t know you in the office the same way your colleagues and clients do. Take advantage of 360 feedback reports to gain insights into your areas of development. Don’t hesitate to ask children who will offer you to most unbiased, candid but also often surprisingly insightful comments. Like with the outcome of self-reflection, feedback may point you to a training need or a more developmental piece of work. Feedback with self-reflection is a powerful combination.
3. Questionnaires. The questionnaires I have in mind here are those you fill out by answering a series of questions about yourself – 360′s are questionnaires about you filled out by others. The questions ask about your reactions, your views, your preferences. They are in a multiple-choice format or represent a forced choice between two options. In that sense, they usually don’t take long to complete. In our virtual age, they are available online and you then receive a report commenting on your personality type or your character traits which points to possible areas for attention and development. In addition to telling you about yourself, such tests can help you make sense of how you approach certain situations, providing welcome ‘aha’ moments. They can also tell you about how others perceive you.
A word of caution: the reports provided do not always make for straight-forward reading so it may make sense to ask for a walk-through of the test results – by the provider, an HR specialist or a coach. The other challenge with those tests is simply that there are millions of them around, some with a long track record, others much newer and therefore possibly less robust. Some of these tests are expensive while others are free or at least quite cheap. You may want to work with a coach to find out which are most useful for your situation.
4. Training. I have mentioned training as one of the most likely outcome from finding a blind spot in the shape of a skill gap and deciding to address it. But training in and of itself can help you find out about some of your blind spots. For this to work, you will need to select training which does not naturally appeal: pick training which takes you out of your comfort zone and encourages behaviours you seldom use if ever – for example a challenging activity or a public debate. Pick something you will be uncomfortable with. It takes courage but the rewards are well worth it as you could learn more about yourself in the course of this bumpy ride than with any of the other techniques combined.
5. The downside of your strengths. As my last tip to find your blind spots, I am listing the “downside of your strengths”. This may appear nonsensical at first. After all, we all know that we perform much better when we play to our strengths. We also know how hard it is to really, truly fix our weaknesses. So what am I going on about? Here, it is about overusing our strengths. Indeed, when we use a strength, things will typically work out. Not only do we do well but it often feels easy because strengths are so natural. All good and well but the risk is to fall into the trap using a particular strength for all sorts of situations, including those for which it is irrelevant. There is also the risk that the behaviour which uses the strength starts to feel clunky, less fluid: that usually manifest via an energy drain. Using a strength goes from energising us to draining us. And that’s your clue: the change in energy flow. Notice that how you used to be, to feel is no longer working so well – there’s a glitch. If you let the process run, that strength will simply stop working altogether and you will have created another weakness. Pick up on the change in time and you will have shed light on a critical strength to preserve. How to restore a strength that’s in danger of over-use: dial it down. Moderate its use. Just like good wine!