What an employee doesn’t know, see or hear in the workplace can hurt him. Just ask Tres Roeder, a project-management consultant who learned the hard way that his “professional blind spot” was undermining his success.
Trained to focus on facts and figures, “my blind spot was reading interpersonal dynamics at work,” Roeder says. “My formal education did not prepare me to deal with the emotions and politics that are part of organizations.”
Roeder assumed that rationality ruled in the workplace until experience taught him otherwise. After a presentation Roeder had chalked up as a success, his colleague predicted the vice president would kill the project. “She laid out all these nonverbal behaviors she’d observed, things that weren’t even on my radar screen,” Roeder recalls.
Roeder now realizes that emotions and politics are huge drivers in organizational decision-making, and conducts his Cleveland-based consulting firm accordingly.
A blind spot, by definition, is something we may not even be aware of. However, once we recognize our blind spots, we can guard against them, says Roeder, adding that missing nonverbal cues is a common but addressable weakness.
“Had I read the signs, I would have communicated the value of my project in a different way, emphasizing how it was consistent with the vice president’s goals and offering to make adjustments to address his concerns,” explains Roeder, who went on to self-publish “A Sixth Sense for Project Management” (AuthorHouse, 2011) based on his experience.
Failing to “map out the lay of the land” can create multiple blind spots, putting a newcomer’s ideas and career prospects in peril, warns Vicky Oliver, author of “301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions” (Skyhorse, 2010).
Titles and organizational charts aren’t necessarily indicative of who exerts the most power and influence in an organization, says Oliver: “As a general strategy, when you first start working at a company it’s essential to figure out the true power structure, the web of existing alliances and any antagonisms that existed before your arrival. Do not go directly to the office gossip; it’s best to gently suss out the information. Keep your ears open and your mouth closed until you really have scoped out the territory.”
What happens after hours is revealing, Oliver adds: “Try to figure out who plays golf together on the weekends, whose kids go to school together, who takes the subway or train home together, and who carpools.”
For better or worse, friendships forge into political alliances, she explains.
Also be on the lookout for office “subcultures” because how they operate within an organization matters, says Uva Coles, dean of career management services at Peirce College in Philadelphia.
Personal baggage and insecurities also create blind spots. Lack of confidence gives rise to all sorts of machinations, including backstabbing and “fear-driven, over-controlling” leadership, says Lee Ellis, president of the Atlanta-based team-development consulting company Leadership Freedom.
“Baggage from the past causes unhealthy responses including problems with authority, inability to trust and fear of conflict, which all lead to the inability to have difficult conversations,” says Ellis, a former Air Force pilot, POW and author of “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton” (Freedom Star Media, 2012).
Because we do our best to hide insecurities and suppress emotional issues, bringing them to light takes courage, says Ellis: “Have a conversation with a trusted manager, peers or a family member and ask them to give you two or three areas that are obviously problematic for you in terms of performance, getting results and building good relationships. Don’t deny or defend; just make notes and then reflect on the feedback. Look for corroborating feedback from more than one source.”
With this clarity, “You can then can form a development plan and support team,” Ellis says.
Bottom line: “Peripheral vision matters in an organization,” Coles says, “so don’t wear blinders. Do the job you were hired to do, but constantly keeping your head down is a poor way to develop your career.”
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