Why we are frequently blindsided
The sun was piercing my head. Within 5 minutes of exposure to the hot midday sun, I was looking forward to going home. As a volunteer at my first grassroots event, it was my job to distribute anti-dengue pamphlets within my neighbourhood which required walking under the midday sun.
As part of an anti-dengue drive, we were supposed to encourage residents to take note of stagnant water in their houses and dispose it. Simple enough, I thought. But my first encounter with a resident turned the whole experience around for me. He started complaining about water stagnation outside his house during downpours and told us to look into it. After listening to him for about 15 minutes, I told him that we will update the relevant person and that we had to go as we had other houses to distribute the pamphlets to. He was visibly upset and said that we were not authentic in listening to his issue.
It was a reaction which caught me by surprise as I thought we had listened quite well by asking him questions and taking photos of the affected area. Later I realised that I was listening on my terms and not on his. I was blindsided by what was going on in my head and not seeing the issue from his perspective.
What causes us to be blindsided? Many times it is the story playing in our head. We live in our heads and our thoughts; and tend to project that out onto the world. We can get so engulfed in our thoughts that we assume that to be the reality. Psychologists use the term cognitive biases to explain the tendency for us to ignore what is obvious around us and to see only what we want to see. Essentially, it is as though we are wearing blinkers on our eyes and minds – and this shuts off the environment around us.
What can we do about it?
1) We can ask ourselves questions to evoke alternative viewpoints. If we believe in a view, we can ask what if someone believed the opposite. How might that be true for them and what story would they be telling themselves.
2) Talk to a diverse group of people to expand your viewpoint. While social media has allowed us to stay connected to the news, the filtering function means that we only read what we are interested in or what our friends are interested in. Thus we miss out on a lot of information and news which we used to “stumble” upon from browsing hard copy newspapers and magazines before the advent of social media.
3) Breathe deeply whenever we are confronted with an alternative view point which goes against our assumptions. Remember that reality is only based on perspectives and our perspective does not make the reality more true than someone else’s perspective.
Our tendency to get blindsided will likely manifest in many areas of our lives. But the way we deal and manage this will have a noticeable impact on our relationship with others. At the very least, we will be more careful during the next anti-dengue campaign.
This blog was featured in Executive Lifestyle on 10 Aug 2016.