The Power and Potential of Blind Spots

Sunset 10-25-2019

Whoa Nellie, what a week.  How are you?  What’s vexing you most right now?  What’s holding you up?

A 651 KB PDF sits portentously in my work inbox.

It’s the report of the 14 people who completed surveys for my 360 leadership evaluation.  What a fantastic learning opportunity (assuming the feedback is concrete and actionable)!  I had planned to do it last winter, and then I procrastinated.  And then the pandemic hit.  At home and not seeing patients, I debated whether to bother people with such a frivolous ask.  I decided to proceed because as a leader, what better chance and reason to get real time feedback than during a crisis?  And will there be a better time in the coming months?  I am grateful to/for the 14 respondents.

My biggest fear is that I will be blindsided, and then frozen, by unexpected and severely negative feedback.  I’d say I have a moderate case of imposter syndrome.  So this report carries, in my lizard brain, a high risk of confirming every insecurity I harbor about my leadership, personality, and value to my (any!) organization.  *deep breath*

Johari Window

https://www.communicationtheory.org/the-johari-window-model/

 

Thankfully I am more than my threat-vigilant self; I can receive feedback calmly and rationally.  And, I have support.  One of my LOH classmates introduced me to the Johari Window model the other day.  How have I not come across (remembered) this model before now?  Into the first of the four panes, my ‘Arena’, I put aspects of my leadership style that are known to both myself and others—strengths and weaknesses.  A second pane, my ‘Façade,’ comprises things known to me but that I conceal from others.  These can include deep seated fears, insecurities, traumas, and other emotional baggage.  I bet many of us underestimate the influence and consequences of façade traits on our leadership style and results.  My 360 will show what lives in the upper right pane, my ‘Blind Spot(s)’—what is known to others and not known to me—hence the risk for being ‘blindsided.’  Finally, the parts of my leadership that are as yet unknown to both myself and to others are simply labelled ‘Unknown.’  I have renamed this quadrant ‘Potential for Supported Learning and Growth.’

The best possible result from this 360 exercise is a new, clear, and useful awareness of my leadership Blind Spots.  In her book Insight, Tasha Eurich asserts that true, effective self-awareness embraces and processes both the self-known and other-known domains, and their intersection.  I plan to map out my Johari Window for both strengths and weaknesses before opening my report.  Then I can organize them into broad categories as a framework for approaching the results, and see how well they reconcile (or not).

But beyond professional leadership in my little clinical practice, how else can I apply this self-awareness framework?  How can this exercise inform larger, more global  relationships and culture?

Racism

In July, 2016, I wrote this post about racism and listening for peace.  I’m glad to have documented my thoughts and experiences over the years.  Rereading it now, I can see how I have both sustained and evolved my attitudes on addressing racism.  I still respect all points of view, at least partially.  But I am now more willing to take risks and engage in the hard conversations, to show that I have the capacity to address complexity, to hold tension between divergent and opposing perspectives.  I used to fear being misconstrued as a member of an antagonist monolith.  I am less afraid today to confront such assumptions that others may make of me (and I of them), to invite dialog, to withstand the discomfort of digging in and exchanging in earnest.  This includes with those whose ideology I oppose, as well as those with whom I align.

A principal value of inviting divergent dialog, like the 360 evaluation, is to reveal my Blind Spots.  For instance, even as I think of myself as ‘not racist,’ what behaviors have I that actually are racist, or at least ignorant and complicit?  How can I be more anti-racist?  What can the mirror show me that I can act on and improve, to make a positive difference?

For more on the vital importance and dire need for more of this kind of engagement and self-reflection, read David French’s piece from this morning, “American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go.”

For an excellent example of how Blind Spots manifest publicly, and how this can instruct us, read John Pavlovitz’s excellent essay on how Drew Brees slammed straight into the mirror as blind as any of us.

We can all map out Johari Window panes for our racism and anti-racism, just like leadership strengths and weaknesses.  Then we can shut up and listen to our Black friends and colleagues, learn in earnest about how racism really is built into and manifests in every aspect of our national heritage and culture.  We can speak up and act when we witness racist thought, attitude, behavior, words, decisions, and policies.  Each of us, in small and still significant ways, can lighten the burden our Black peers carry—we can and should share the work of dismantling our oppressive and marginalizing, racist systems.

It all starts with awareness—the closer to 360 the better.

What Calls You?  How Will You Answer?

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What a long, strange, heartbreaking trip it’s been, and there is no end in sight.

As if a global pandemic and 100,000 lives lost in the US alone were not enough, the inescapable reality of systemic racism and police brutality is now on full display and we must engage.  Anyone paying attention is right and justified to feel fatigued, frustrated, and at the end of their rope.

Each of us experiences all of this from our own unique perspective, informed by our personal and ‘tribal’ experiences to this point.  And we also share a genuinely collective experience in many ways.  It is the ultimate human paradox, no?

In the end, I always come back to our universal need for meaningful connection–love, really–as the light that will show us the way through.

For me, two main questions arise that I feel are the most important to answer at this point in history and my own life:

  1. What am I learning about my own biases, prejudices, assumptions, and attitudes in this time?  Corollaries:  When do I notice those tendencies arise?  What is that about?  And how do they affect my words and actions, and thus all of my relationships?
  2. With this ever-emerging awareness, how can I commit to being a contribution?  How will I, in this time of severe personal and societal disruption and upheaval, help to connect and heal rather than to divide and destroy–what specific, concrete actions will I take?

Asians occupy a strange Middle Space of racial identity.  We are ‘white-adjacent’—we enjoy some privileges similar to whites in America.  We also suffer some prejudice—more so since the 2016 presidential election, and much more so since the COVID-19 pandemic.  It’s all so complex.  I think I knew before, but now it’s crystal clear: Asians have a unique role to play in dismantling systemic racism and supporting Black Lives.

This article on Amy Cooper, the white woman who called 911 to falsely report that Christian Cooper, a black man, was threatening her life, captured the challenge well:

“What the Amy Cooper situation reveals to me is what instances of racism in America always reveal: There’s a level of self-examination and self-awareness that white people are not doing that they must do. There’s something that white people, even the ones who believe that they hold no biases, that they wield no power, must admit to themselves and begin to unpack. They are complicit — and even participatory — in the system of white supremacy. Individual white people may not believe they are, but their ability to tap into that system is always within reach.”  (emphasis mine)

For the most part, I enjoy enough privilege to not worry about my safety or that of my husband or son when we go out in public (though I have lately).  But as the coronavirus has now reminded me, Asians really don’t have access to the system of privilege that white people do.  So, my work is to find those specific, concrete actions that will advance anti-racism, primarily that against black people.  Because Black Lives seem to matter the least right now, and none are free until all are.  We Asians have some reckoning of our own to do, because we as a group do participate in and contribute to anti-black culture.

So now I commit to learning more by following writers like Professor Ibram Kendi.  I will listen to and read the stories posted by my black colleagues on social media, such as this one and this one.  I will look for opportunities to ‘upstand’ when I witness racist behavior in public or online.  I can follow groups who walk the talk, like Asians4BlackLives.  And I can find other resources to engage and participate in, like the myriad ones listed on President Obama’s Anguish and Action page.

This inner work is difficult, slow, and profoundly uncomfortable.  But it must be done for the outer work to have meaning and efficacy.  I believe we can overcome systemic racism and oppression.  And as always, we must do it all together.

 

November 7:  Feedback Makes Me Better

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NaBloPoMo 2019

This post is about power.

Two friends provided important feedback on last night’s post, and I am, gratefully, much better for it.

* * * * *

“You are a woman of color?”

My college friend commented on Facebook.  “Are you being serious?”  I asked him.  Yes, he replied.  He went on to point out that he sees the term being used more broadly, and that he thinks it’s been co-opted.  He made me think, which always makes me better.

In the original post, I described myself as a “petite, young, woman of color doctor,” standing up to an older white man. My friend wrote, “I think disadvantage is baked into the term, why else use it?”  Looking back, I admit I was exaggerating.  I had power on my mind, and I was trying to think of all the ways I should not have power in the situation, and yet I absolutely did, and I recognized it.  But labeling myself a person of color, I realize now, was at least somewhat inappropriate.  I have changed the text to “petite, young, Chinese woman doctor.”  I sincerely apologize if I insulted or offended anyone.

In medicine, East Asians are not considered a disadvantaged minority in the conventional sense (although while we are over-represented compared to the general population, we hold proportionally few leadership roles).  In general, however, I would argue that any non-white person in the US may still experience myriad disadvantages, in any field or situation, even if subtle.  At any point in an encounter, even with ‘MD’ and years of training and expertise behind my name, a white man can always hurl some racist, sexist remark to make me feel small.  He could just as easily attack a fellow white man on the basis of weight, sexual orientation, stature, or some other peculiar distinction, but somehow it feels like my white male colleagues just don’t have to think about this possibility as much as I do.  I feel self-conscious about my gender and race every day at work.  That is why this past spring, when I attended a negotiation skills presentation at the American College of Physicians (ACP) national meeting, I felt particularly gratified that the presenters were two East Asian women and one white man.

* * * * *

“You may want to include physicians as victims in your blog.”

A colleague responded to my post by sharing her story of being verbally attacked by a patient.  She was alone, no witnesses, and he treated staff politely, unlike in my story.  She was ‘dumbstruck and said nothing.’  She wrote, “I think as physicians, we are targets for verbal abuse because we have a privileged profession and would look foolish or weak in defending ourselves.”  In other words, since doctors hold such high societal status (power), people think we should just accept being taken down a notch or two?  That if we express an expectation of respect we are lording our status over others and thus even more justifiably open to insult and ridicule?  I see now how this can make a physician feel like a victim of societal stereotypes and expectations.

That said, I think it doesn’t matter what we do for a living; every person has an absolute right to expect respect from anyone else.  Years ago, another older white male patient made a series of passive aggressive remarks in the space of several minutes at the end of a visit.  I felt they were unfair and uncalled for, as I had spent the entire visit doing my best to connect with and care for him.  After a moment of consideration, knowing it was a risk, I was respectfully direct with him.  I repeated his words and told him that they felt like digs.  He admitted that they were and apologized, and congratulated my courage to call him out.  He never came back to see me.  I feel good about how I handled it; was it a power struggle?  I would have been open to cultivating a mutually respectful and honest relationship, had he returned.

Feedback definitely makes me better.  I will never grow if I only attend to my own point of view.  I don’t have to abandon my own perspective when facing an opposing one, and I am not obligated to incorporate anyone else’s point of view.  But if I expect anyone to take my writing and message seriously, I am required to listen to and try to understand any feedback that is offered in good faith.

Thank you, my friends, for keeping me honest and grounded.