‘Positively Negative’ Traits – Overcoming blind spots that limit potential
Over the weekend I caught up with one of my besties, someone I adore and consider to be a ‘mirror’ of my soul. In the spirit of honest conversation, we were talking about blind spots, the stuff we don’t see about ourselves that others see. In this instance, the topic was my enthusiasm and optimism, positive traits which I am typically regarded for. However, if I’m feeling anxious my optimism can lead to confirmation bias and self-deception (I convince myself a situation is true when it really isn’t), or it becomes a barrier to other’s feeling ‘seen’. Hence, my innate disposition toward seeing good in people and situations can inadvertently undermine my ability to actively listen and be fully present. Ouch! It’s a pattern I’m aware of that I am learning to 'catch myself in the act' and change. I see similar ‘positively negative’ traits in leaders and teams I work with – behaviours unconsciously developed through shame and fear, which on the surface appear well-meaning, even noble, but are often met with resistance, resulting in confusion, pain and avoidance. It’s like trying to stick two positive ends of a magnet together.
Deep down, we all want to be loved and valued.
Consider successful individuals who come across as arrogant or ‘full of themselves’ to colleagues and friends, yet deep down the enthusiasm they exude is born from a simple desire to be loved and valued. What’s more, our negatively positive traits are often quite changeable – we adapt flexibly to new situations in order to be valued and to succeed. This adaptability was demonstrated by psychologist Steven A. Sloman and his colleagues at Brown University. Their research subjects were asked to move a cursor to a dot on a computer screen as quickly as possible. A simple enough task it would seem but here’s the thing: if participants were told above-average skill in this task reflected high intelligence, they immediately concentrated on the task and performed better. They also didn’t seem to think they had exerted more effort – which the researchers interpret as evidence of a successful self-deception. And yet, if the test subjects were convinced that only dimwits performed well on such stupid tasks, their performance tanked.
“We have mastered fire and have stood on the moon, and yet every one of us is fundamentally ignorant, irrational and prone to making simple mistakes every day.” – Steven A. Sloman.
Think about your gifts, abilities, and specific personality traits – aspects of identity that seem innate and ‘like you’, however, which you may have developed unconsciously to overcome adverse or challenging situations. These are our blind spots – ‘positively negative’ patterns of behaviour that fuel and sabotage potential. I encourage you to spend time alone to reflect and journal on what your blind spots might be. See what comes to light. Ask a trusted friend or your partner – someone you trust that knows you well enough to provide honest, unfiltered feedback. It’s uncomfortable and confronting to make ourselves vulnerable to others like this, but the best version of you is waiting on the other side.
Until next time...