Question posed: This question during a talk I gave. One man in the audience said a lot of getting along was being friendly and polite. Thus, he usually greeted everyone, even strangers in cities he visited, and they almost always returned his greeting. This, he said, proved that everyone can contribute to better relationships. Then, the man posed this question to me: when I travel, do I greet people, such as those standing waiting for the elevator with me.
Answer: I replied that I also greet strangers but might not in the scenario he described. He looked dismayed that I selectively greet people, suggesting that I was less committed to good interpersonal relationships than he. So, I explained my reply:
To set the scene in context
I was speaking at a conference. My talks are always interactive, in which I encourage audience members to consider their own situations. The topic was one of my favorites, Developing Conflict Competence, and this man was particularly engaged with it. His appearance is important to the story. He was a retired, white man, over six feet tall, fit and imposing. The rest of the audience looked somewhat confused with my answer, although I can’t say for sure what they made of the exchange at that point.
I explained the reason I selectively greet people when I travel
When I travel it’s usually work-related, during the week when the people I am likely to meet in elevators are also business travellers. 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, which the man in the audience had described as his way of being friendly, the man at the elevator might think I was making an advance or hitting on him. In other words, in the context, I might edit my usual behaviour to be socially appropriate for my identity, experience and location. Women sometimes wait for the next elevator to feel safe.
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 was a blind spot.
A blind spot is anything that, because of your identity and experience and location, you cannot see or understand. It was a terrific reinforcement of the talk I was giving about being self-aware to be conflict competent.
This man, with all his advantaged privilege, has never considered that his identity, experience and location, his reality and feelings of safely, are different than mine.
There are so many places in which we have blind spots. Doing a Blind Spot Analysis to determine what you are blind to can develop your conflict competence. There are applications of Blind Spot Analysis in any area in which you might have conflicts. Challenging the assumption that you are correct in your conflict position is a start.
Blind Spots hide conflicts’ sources
At a meeting 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. As an urban dweller with a job in resource extraction, he 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 – perhaps it’s time to conduct your Blind Spot Analysis.