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Contributing to the problem, albeit unknowingly

Contributing to the problem, albeit unknowingly
Imagine that you’re having a disagreement with someone. A third person tries to mediate but you tell her, “Why are you trying to convince me? Go and tell them. I’m not problematic, they are.” Even if you didn’t have anyone to sort the situation in between, you must have thought, “I don’t have a problem, they do.” I remember saying that numerous times, sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud. Most of the time, in our interpersonal relationships, we complain about how the other person isn’t doing enough to understand us and how they make our lives problematic. We make other people villains, to make it seem like we’re the poor ones. Parents occasionally find their children to be troublemakers, and children see their parents as villains. Friends complain about their fellows not caring about them. Partners find each other to be unloving. Leaders think their employees are only bothered about themselves, and employees consider that all their leaders care about is their company’s bottom line and not them. There is a pattern. Never once does it occur to us that we could be the ones contributing to the same problems we complain about. This phenomenon is called ‘the blindness paradox’ or ‘self-deception.’ Self-deception is the problem of not knowing that we have a problem. I’m sure we’ve heard the cliche, “It takes two for a tango.” How does it ring true to this discussion? Conflicts, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and low trust are common problems in our interpersonal relationships due to which we go on to blame or point fingers at others. But these problems don’t occur in isolation. It takes at least two people to engage in these sorts of issues. But, while we so easily blame, judge, or criticize other people, we don’t consider how our actions could invite what we don’t appreciate from others.

How can this create problems for us? As long as we keep thinking the problem is with the other person, we are likely to propose solutions that aren’t inclusive and sustainable. Let’s take the case of the eager supervisor who is passionate about his work and occasionally shares new ideas with his colleagues. His colleagues enjoy their roles but can’t catch up to their supervisor’s enthusiasm. Even if they want to contribute to the team and the common goals, they often don’t have space to share their thoughts. Without addressing this possibility, the supervisor thinks his colleagues are probably not keen on doing their best or don’t care about the work as much as he does. What might follow?

Even if the supervisor changes his behavior to invite more active participation and perspectives from his colleagues, it won’t be enough for the supervisor. Why? The reason is that the problem never was that the colleagues didn’t have ideas to share or didn’t look to do their best. The supervisor’s mindset was primarily self-focused. It was, in fact, the supervisor who didn’t allow others the space to chime in, as he was keen to share his own. The supervisor will always have problems with his colleagues because others will remain inadequate and incompetent in his eyes (when they can’t match his level of enthusiasm). Hence, there are chances that even if he has new people joining in, he would question them the same after some time. It might not occur to him that he could also be the one contributing to the problem he often complains about. Self-deception is why we start operating with a self-focused mindset. The underlying thought of a self-focused mindset is ‘I don’t have a problem; the others do’. Driven by this thought process, we start seeing other people as objects, vehicles to further our goals, irrelevancies to ignore, and obstacles to overcome. We don’t see other people as people—people with similar (if not the same) needs, objectives, and challenges. Had the eager supervisor taken a step back to reflect on his actions, he might have realized how he contributed to the same problem, which frustrated him. This is just an example and, in no way, a generalization of how supervisors are. There’s a great possibility that this write-up is about you. But here’s the catch: it’s about everyone reading this. It’s about me who’s writing this. So, whenever you complain, ask yourself—am I complaining to help, or am I complaining to justify why someone is undeserving, wrong, or irrelevant? If your answer leans toward the latter, you’re most probably self-deceived. Why does identifying and understanding this matter? It matters because self-deception makes us ignorant at the least and delusional at the worst. When we become self-deceived, all we can see are problems with others while remaining oblivious to the impact of our actions on them. When we deceive ourselves, we stop seeing the world around us as it is. Our world then consists only of ourselves and the things that concern us. In this world, others are merely objects—that either help us, hurt or, or aren’t relevant to us. So, the solutions we propose to resolve situations may seem convenient for ourselves but not for others and can create more problems in our interpersonal relationships. The author is the Linchpin at My Emotions Matter, an education initiative that helps individuals and teams learn the mindset and skills of Emotional Intelligence. You can learn more at