I remember sitting in a project meeting back when I worked for a Big Company. The project manager, Ted, announced the top three priorities. When I offered a different view point, Ted declared, “You’re wrong. We decided on these priorities yesterday.” He didn’t notice six out of eight people at the table shaking their heads “No.”
Ted didn’t notice the responses and reactions of people around him. He also didn’t notice that he didn’t notice.
We all have filters. That’s a good thing–our cognitive systems can’t process all the data that’s available. But most people filter out useful information as well as extraneous information (for example, the size of loops in the carpet or shoe styles). What any one person filters depends on his preferences for big picture vs. detail processing, intake style (verbal, visual, tactile) and training.
Learning about your own filters builds self-awareness. Knowing what you tend to filter allows you to choose to ignore that information or make a conscious choice to notice it.
Ted deprived himself of the choice to notice people’s reactions. Ted was continually surprised when people “resisted” or “backtracked” on decisions. He didn’t pick up on the fact that after he made a few sharp criticisms, people stopped offering ideas.
People who lack self-awareness don’t realize their own observational biases or notice the impact of their behavior. They wonder why things don’t work well (or work well) but don’t see their part in the situation.
One relatively small action by a manager can send ripples or shockwaves through a system. Ted’s lack of self-awareness suppressed the groups effectiveness. Some people ignored Ted’s dictates and did what they thought was right–which splintered the group’s effort. Others left for positions where they could participate in solving problems rather than carrying out the managers prescriptions, driving turnover. Since hierarchy amplifies biases, it behooves people in management roles to build their awareness and find their filters.
Here are two exercises to build awareness of your own filters.
1. Work with a colleague who has different type preferences or a different sensory intake style. Make an agreement to share observations after meetings or working sessions. What does your colleague consistently notice that you miss? What do you miss by missing that?
Work on noticing those things that you have missed up until now. Notice what insights you gain about yourself and the group.
2. Reflect on a recent meeting. Did you notice anything about the flow of conversation? For example, in what order do people speak? Who interrupts whom, and how often? Did you notice anything about physical arrangements? Or who is on their iPhone? Did you notice what emotions came up?
Choose an aspect of human behavior that you normally don’t notice. Then, practice noticing it. Notice what insights you gain about yourself and the group.
If it fits for you, report back here. If you would like some help honing your self-awareness, drop me a note.