Inattentional blindness, is a form of social blindness that describes our inability to notice someone who is right in front of us, usually because the encounter is completely unexpected, or because our attention is focused elsewhere at the time.
Another form of social blindness is “conversational blindness” which is defined as answering the wrong question the right way. We see it most frequently when in a crisis situation a spokesperson or a politician who is commenting on an issue is giving the media what is commonly referred to as the “royal runaround” by dodging questions left and right. New research by Todd Rogers (HBS Ph.D ’08) and Harvard Business School professor Michael I. Norton cited the listeners’ failure to notice such avoidances and to socially punish transgressors unless the attempts are conspicuously offensive. “More troubling, listeners preferred speakers who answered the wrong question well over those who answered the right question poorly,” the authors note.
What is believed to cause conversational blindness is that listening is much more taxing than we can comprehend. Listening demands that we take notice of and understand each phrase, relate each phrase to the last, fill in roundabout components of what’s being said, and scrutinize and put together the speaker’s nonverbal messages. Rogers conclusions rested on the fact that conversational blindness happens in part because real-world conversations occur as a continuous ebb and flow, leaving little time for people to reflect on how every statement links to each previous statement.
Then there is racial blindness. It is the unwillingness to bring up race or racism and to deny multi-culture populations by pretending that visible cultural differences simply do not exist and to refute that there is such a thing as racism in our society or any society for that matter. To say one is color blind and that all races are treated equally is to rebuff the vast differences in living standards and to believe in the fallacy that everyone is treated equal regardless of race.
Social blindness is the result of the many complexities that surround social interactions with others. Something as simple as being introduced to a person for the first time and breaking down the words and actions that all contribute to the success of that initial greeting is tricky. What is said and the manner in which one initially communicates one’s message can either win a person respect from others or cause them to lose it. Low-functioning social participants experience constant rejection and express continuous feelings of loneliness even when in the company of others. As people get older they automatically become more likely victims of social blindness.
One of the things we can do to avoid social blindness is to engage in groups where our beliefs are amplified and reinforced by everyone’s mutual consensus thinking. Finding and engaging in relationships with individuals who share common interests with us is stimulating. Our opinions and perceptions are valued when we associate with people with common minds.
Finally, and most importantly, we need to be ultra aware of our differences and not try to pretend that such divisions do not exist between us. It is up to us to be reverent when in the company of others and to lend them our attention even if we can not subscribe to their way of thinking. Social blindness is curable but only if we address its symptoms early on with the intention to eliminate them by building up a sharper and clearer picture of who is around us at all times.
More information on this topic –
Why We Miss What Is Right In Front of Us
Decoding the Artful Sidestep
Racial Color-Blindness: Just As Bad As Regular Blindness