Police Interview Newsletter
Your Blind Spots: Know Thyself!

Volume 4, Issue 3
May-June, 2005

Where are your blind spots? Like it or not, we've all got them! What are you doing or not doing that is detracting from your effectiveness on the job? At home? In relationships with friends? What do your supervisors, peers, direct reports, and/or friends observe in you that you are totally unaware of?

No idea? Why not? Perhaps you shy away from asking them for feedback on a regular basis. Maybe you're one of those people who waits for others to give you feedback. After all, isn't it their responsibility to speak up and say something to you when there is a problem or concern of some kind? Perhaps. But, the truth is -- people are very reluctant to volunteer their feedback, especially when the information is negative or corrective in nature. Have you considered pursuing some feedback more directly?

Any boss or supervisor will tell you that the least desirable, most difficult part of his/her job is giving the employer negative feedback about some aspect of his performance. Confronting a co-worker (peer, boss, or direct report) is unpleasant at best. Those with high-level interpersonal skills do it effectively, when necessary, but nobody likes the task.

Some years ago, I worked as a senior psychologist in a large community mental health center. I couldn't help noticing that those employees who were experiencing serious job performance problems had nearly always been unwilling to ask others for help or feedback along the way. So, they floundered and failed- often losing their jobs in the process- rather than admitting or exploring the notion that a skill deficit or personality trait might be interfering. How sad and ironic that at a human service agency with a “helping” philosophy, an employee's excessive pride, defensiveness, or know-it-all attitude could have such destructive consequences. I saw this dynamic occur repeatedly with unit administrators, clinical staff, and clerical workers alike- when people resisted asking for performance feedback.

A police officer, at any level in the organization, is prone to make the same mistake unless the individual is unusually comfortable with himself, understands that he has strengths and weaknesses, and is willing to be proactive in seeking out regular feedback about how others perceive him. New recruits and command staff alike may feel the need to go-it-alone, to be perfect, or to deny shortcomings in a fashion that threatens to isolate and alienate them from other officers.

Police Examples: Blind Spots and Self-Defeating Behaviors

Each one of us has blind spots- gaps in our self-knowledge. less conscious truths about how we operate. A blind spot may involve being unaware of: a particular skill or skill deficit that one exhibits, self-centeredness, aloofness or hostility towards others, an area of emotional sensitivity, or perhaps some dysfunctional family dynamic that gets played out repeatedly with other people. Unidentified blind spots can ruin a police career!

Other impediments to self knowledge occur when officers exhibit attitudes of arrogance or interpersonal defensiveness. These types of roadblocks to helpful feedback may not involve blind spots, but perhaps rigid interpersonal styles which reduce the likelihood that (1) the officer will ask others for help or (2) that others around him will be willing to risk offering sincere feedback to this close-minded co-worker.

Consider the following situations:

Mark is a 26 year old police recruit. He has been married for three years and is half-way through his academy training. Mark has always wanted to be a police officer and beams with pride as he talks about his dream-come-true career. There is some difficulty at home, however, that nobody knows about. He and his wife have terrible arguments and on several occasions it's become physical. But, instead of talking to his supervisor or asking for help through the employee assistance program, Mark has decided that he can handle things on his own. Big mistake! He is jeopardizing both his marriage and his law enforcement career. His excessive pride and self-sufficiency is getting in the way.

Sam is a newly-promoted platoon sergeant. This was his second try with the sergeant's exam, so he was pleased and much relieved to have finally made it. He was assigned to the evening shift on the East end of town, and after one month on the job was settling into the routine fairly well. Sam has started to notice, however, that the officers who he supervises on his platoon appear to be fairly tense and uncomfortable in his presence. He has been told in the past that he can come across as critical and judgmental. Could that be happening with my patrolmen on the shift?, he wonders. Am I talking to my people in a way that is shutting them down? Instead of asking his direct reports for some feedback, Sam decides that it's not his problem if people view him as tough and demanding. After all, he's got a job to do. As time goes on, Sam acquires the reputation of being an arrogant and closed-minded supervisor. Officers transfer off of his platoon as soon as possible, and warn others to stay away. Sam's defensiveness keeps him from learning the truth about himself and will surely continue to hinder his leadership effectiveness.

Captain Bishop is a 20-year veteran of a large and progressive law enforcement agency. By all accounts, he is a star-possessing all the skills, talents, and aptitudes to be a top cop. The men and women working under him love and respected their boss and his leadership approach. Since making captain 18 months ago, Captain Bishop has been functioning as a member of the command staff and attending weekly administrative meetings with the chief and the other brass. The management team has been working on a mass reorganization project for months now, but recently the captain started noticing that none of his ideas, suggestions, or points-of-view are being taken seriously by the other members of the team. Captain Bishop was perplexed and a bit annoyed. He debated with himself about whether to keep these feelings private, and accept his peripheral position in the group, or to share his concerns with some people he trusted. To his credit, Captain Bishop spoke privately with two other captains and a police major who were fellow members on the management team. The Captain needed some honest feedback and he knew it! So, instead of complaining about how he was feeling treated, he skillfully presented his concerns to each of his coworkers in the following fashion:

“In the past few months, at our weekly command staff meetings, it seems like most of what I've offered has been ignored or discounted. I've always thought of myself as a team player, but lately I feel as if I'm sitting on the bench in the dugout. I guess I'm wondering if there is something that I've been doing at our meetings that is getting in the way or detracting from my effectiveness. Would you be willing to tell me what you're observing about me and my behavior in our command staff meetings?

Captain Bishop was stunned by what he learned! In his individual conversations with the two captains and the major, each pointed out that it was he (Captain Bishop) who had been difficult to work with in recent months. In discussing the departmental reorganization, he had been so focused on specific details that he wasn't seeing the forest for the trees- to the utter frustration of everyone else in the room. Furthermore, whenever the police chief or one of the majors spoke up, Captain Bishop seemed to bristle competitively and to reject their opinions. He was not operating as a team player. With some soul-searching the Captain realized that his coworkers were right. In truth he had always had difficulty with authority figures (beginning with his father years before) and for some reason this dynamic was playing out at the command staff meetings. Captain Bishop appreciated the honest feedback and immediately started to make some conscious changes in his own behavior. This willingness to learn about one's blind spots and to make corrections where necessary is one benchmark of an excellent leader.

As you can see from the examples above, it is easy for people to get into trouble when they are unwilling to ask for help. Only Captain Bishop demonstrated the courage and good sense to ask for some feedback from friends and associates when he sensed that things were not going well. Both Mark and Sam took a more defensive posture, reflective of excessive pride and arrogance, thereby insuring that their blind spots would follow them.

Self Knowledge

Lombardo and Eichinger (For Your Improvement: A Developmental And Coaching Guide, 1996) make a compelling case for the importance of self-knowledge:

“Self knowledge is strongly related to success in life and work. In one study, the best predictor of a high performance appraisal was seeing yourself as others see you; the best predictor of a low one was overrating your skills” … “A blind spot is the worst thing you can have. You can really get into performance or career trouble with a blind spot, because you don't know or are unwilling to admit you're not good at it. You will venture into areas that should make you cautious and humble, but you go in strutting and confident. Disaster soon follows. An important life and career goal is to have no blind spots” (p.328).

The authors suggest that when people take the time to understand their personal weaknesses they can successfully “loop around” and compensate for these shortcomings. It is imperative that we really know what we are “good”, “average”, and “bad” at doing, if we hope to navigate life and work successfully.

Some Remedies for Blind Spots:

In their chapter on “Self Knowledge” (p.328-331) Lombardo and Eichinger discuss some important strategies for obtaining feedback. Several of their key ideas are paraphrased and elaborated below.

Get Feedback. Generally speaking, you need to ask for feedback to receive it. Most people are hesitant to give you feedback, especially negative reviews, unless you make it very clear that you are open and motivated to receive it. They may avoid you or talk behind your back, but unless the co-worker is unusually assertive he or she is unlikely to easily bring a problem behavior to your attention. However, when we are willing to ask others to give us the “bad news”, their respect for us often increases and the feedback offered is likely to be more valid and useful. Since people are reluctant to give criticism, you can ease the process by making a “self appraisal statement” first, then asking for their input-instead of asking them open-ended questions which offer no hints about your areas of concern.

Instead of asking a friend, “How do you perceive me relating to others in our weekly staff meetings?”, you may want to say offer more information by saying, “Lately in our weekly staff meetings, I've gotten the feeling that I may not be expressing myself very well. How do you perceive me?”

Confidential Feedback. When the person giving you feedback knows that the results will be public, your scores will be excessively positive and generally less accurate. So, if you want more reliable and accurate feedback, it's important to pursue private discussions with those who may possess important information. Paper-and-pencil tests, such as Benchmarks offer a means of obtaining private 360° feedback from your boss, superiors, peers, and direct reports. This would involve enlisting the help of a professional facilitator, certified in 360° instruments who could help you accurately interpret your feedback scores.

Seek Feedback From More Than One Source. Lombardo and Eichinger correctly suggest that “Different types of raters are likely to know more about and be more accurate about different competencies (p.329). So, when you receive a piece of feedback, it's important to ask yourself : “Is this person in a good position to really know that about me?”

Specific skill areas and competencies best known to each coworker type:

“Bosses usually include: strategic grasp, selling up skills, comfort around higher management, presentation of problems, solutions, clarity of thinking, team building, confronting and sizing up people skills.

Customers generally know about responsiveness, listening, quality orientation, problem-solving skills, understanding of their business needs, persuasiveness.

Peers know persuasion, selling, negotiation, listening to find common cause, keeping the interests of the organization in mind, follow-through on promises, and how well you maintain give and take in 50-50 relationships.

Direct Reports are best at the day to day behavior of leadership, management, team building, delegation, confronting, approachability, time use.” (p. 329)

Work To Get Continuous Feedback; Don't Wait For Annual Feedback Events. As I suggested earlier, if you passively wait for others to take the initiative in offering you feedback, you are likely to receive too little too late to adequately address and correct a problem that may have been developing (and apparent to everyone else) for a long time. This is what happened with Sam, our sergeant, in the scenario on p.2. He failed to ask others for feedback and soon became a “leader” who was despised and avoided.

Lombardo and Eichinger advise seeking continuous feedback in the following ways:

  • Identify specific areas of concern and ask people to give you anonymous written feedback. This is easily accomplished by constructing a checklist of behaviors and asking each respondent to indicate which things they would like for you to “keep doing”, “start doing”, and “stop doing.”
  • Collaborate with a mentor, or developmental partner. Take the time to establish a relationship with a trusted friend or co-worker who knows what goals you're working on and is willing to give you on-line feedback as you face new challenges. Often it is best to choose a more experienced officer who is not a direct supervisor. This sometimes occurs naturally organizations, but it's worth taking the time to find the right kind of individual who will best meet your needs.
  • Debrief Events. Ask others who watch you perform key job functions to provide you with some immediate feedback. There is nothing quite as valuable as being able to debrief an event or interaction moments after it has occurred. Field Training officers do this routinely with recruits.

Some Final Thoughts

If people tend to view you as arrogant or defensive, you may have to work harder to get accurate feedback. But, don't give up! Be willing to ask repeatedly. Over time, others may start to experience you as sincere and open to input, and consequently they will become more willing to offer it.

At times, you will receive negative feedback from others that you don't agree with and which may not be true at all. Take a deep breath or two, and resist becoming defensive or reactive. Remember, the perceptions of others are hard-core facts to them. Instead, really try to (1) practice the rules of good listening and (2) initially accept all feedback as accurate-even when you know better. Then, instead of debating the truth of their observations, show them through your future actions and behavior that their perceptions are wrong.


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