Leadership Conversations: Reality Gaps and Blind Spots

I’m learning more about the fine art of leadership conversations in Judith E. Glaser’s book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results.

As leaders, the more we become aware of reality gaps and conversational blind spots, the more clearly we can communicate.

In conversations, conflicts commonly arise when there’s a reality gap (an opposing interpretation of reality). This triggers an array of fears that activate our distrust network. We begin to process reality through a fear-based, rather than trust-based, lens. Basically, our brains start to make stuff up.

When we talk past one another, we are conversationally blind. We become focused on making a point and persuading others we’re right. Winning becomes the goal instead of co-creating a shared solution.

In some studies, executives were found to use statements 85 percent of the time while asking questions only 15 percent of the time. Even then, their questions often turned out to be statements in disguise.

Advanced conversational ability isn’t necessarily innate, but you can improve upon it. Conversation partners must agree to share thoughts, ideas, and beliefs to co-create a shared sense of mutual reality.

Conversational Blind Spots

It’s all too easy for us to retreat into our biases, assumptions, and conversational blind spots. This invariably leads to misunderstandings, miscommunications, conflicts, and negative relationships.

Five common conversational blind spots plague us as leaders.

Blind Spot #1: False Assumptions

When we assume others see what we see, feel what we feel, and think what we think, we’re operating with blinders on. We are so engrossed in our own point of view that we can’t connect with another’s perspective.

Sensitive people pick up on others’ lack of connectivity, and they’ll push harder to persuade others that they’re right. Their payoff (WINNING!) is a burst of dopamine that may feel great, but it leaves their conversation partners in the dust.

Blind Spot #2: Underestimating Emotions

Words can trigger strong emotions: trust, distrust, excitement, and fear. When this happens, we may misinterpret our reality. If we feel threatened, we may move into protective behaviors without realizing that we’re doing so. When we’re afraid, the brain releases chemicals that shut down its logic centers.

I’ve coached some pretty smart people, and it’s always amazing to see how easily they fall into these common blind spots. When I point it out to them, it’s as if the lights go back on. They suddenly see how their conversations can become much more effective.

In my next post, I’ll expand on the other three blind spots: lack of empathy, making our own meaning, and assuming we share the same meaning.

What about you? Do you recognize any reality gaps or blind spots in your conversations? I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me on LinkedIn to share your thoughts.