Ever been in a conversation with someone who has a little piece of spinach between their front teeth? There it is, glaring at you with every syllable she speaks yet she has no idea it’s there. You keep thinking, I wish she’d get that piece of spinach out of her teeth. If she only knew how that little green glob was detracting from her message and eroding her credibility. You know that everyone she speaks to is going to walk away remembering the spinach rather than her words.

You want to fix it for her, take your pinky fingernail and scrape it away, but you can’t. You want to tell her but there are others around and you don’t want to embarrass her. You sit helplessly wishing you could change things for her.

As with the spinach, we all have aspects of ourselves and our behavior that we aren’t aware of. We call them our blindspots. They are evident to everyone else but ourselves. For example, I have a client who is a fast-paced, no nonsense communication manager for a highly visible organization. She is very talented, passionate about her work, the mission of her organization and its reputation. In her haste to be responsive to media requests and to get ‘the right message’ out, she often is abrupt with co-workers. In fact, she’s brought more than one to tears. But, she’s moving so fast and is so focused on the outcome that she isn’t even aware of the affect she has on others. When this was finally brought to her attention, she was genuinely shocked.

I was hired to coach her to help her identify and implement a different, more effective approach. The first time I met with Donna, she was still in the dark. She had heard the message that she was upsetting and alienating others but she still didn’t get it. She was still not aware. We sat down with her boss and I asked him to give her some examples of when she had upset others. Her boss had several which he shared in very specific terms. While Donna recalled the events, her memory of the impact she had had was quite different from the picture her boss painted. In fact, she had no idea that she had such a negative affect. Once aware, Donna was on alert. She started paying close attention to her interactions. She started to watch how others responded to her. She became aware of the powerful and often intimidating way in which she came across to people. She got it!

Awareness was only the first, albeit, critical step. Like the first smell of smoke when a fire is about to erupt. Now, she had to discover what triggered her behavior and develop new, more effective actions. I asked her to begin to observe herself, just as she had observed the reaction of others.

As a result of being a witness to her own behavior, she noticed that her body felt tense and her breathing became shallow under stressful circumstances. She actually felt fearful. Her inner voice began to warn her that things were going to go badly. She began to respond out of fear. You know, the place where you’d come from if you were being stalked by a tiger. That fear. It’s a natural response. It’s automatic, fight or flight! But it’s a bit of overkill under the circumstances. Once she saw what was happening, she could take proactive steps to respond differently. She could change the conversation in her head, tell herself there was no real imminent danger and she could choose a different, more effective way to communicate to gain both the information she needed and the relationships she wanted.

Now Donna’s challenge is to make being an observer of herself a habit. She has to slow down enough to notice the physical and emotional cues her body is giving her and to quickly assess their relevance and respond appropriately. With enough practice, this process will become as automatic as her current fight or flight response…but it will be much more effective and will help her be much more successful and satisfied in her career.

If you aren’t getting the results you want or having the relationships you’d like, pay close attention to people’s reaction to you. Then, create a habit of observing yourself just as you observe others. It is a powerful way to increase self-awareness and therefore, self development and growth.

Author's Bio: 

Cindy Loughran is a certified professional coach and the founder and president of New Leaf Touchstone. Her products and services help people break out of their habitual patterns and make desired changes in order to turn over a new leaf and create a fulfilling and satisfying life. newleaftouchstone.com