The Defensive Blindness Principle

Order Reprints

It’s almost certain. Most of your customers possess a level of defensiveness when they drive up to your location. It’s human nature, and it’s unavoidable. Maybe they’ve had a poor experience at a lube shop in the past and are wary of letting those circumstances — whatever they may have been — repeat themselves. They may have even had a less than acceptable experience at your lube shop. That would be unfortunate. Maybe it’s just the perception the public has of quick lubes that makes them a little cautious.

We must face the truth. The typical lube shop is not held in most customers’ highest regard when it comes to ethics or our mechanical or technical abilities. Of course, that is unfair and extreme. I know most quick lube shops around this country are owned, operated and staffed by hardworking and conscientious men and women who take great pride in customer service and their technical skills. But, the old adage, “one bad apple spoils the bunch” often comes into play, and we find ourselves fighting to prove the stigma wrong.

It’s that unfair, preconceived assessment of our ability to successfully service our customers’ vehicles that makes it difficult for us to service them. The truth of the matter is, we really want what is best for them and their vehicles. We want them to stay safe and vehicles to last a long time, as well as provide them with the best performance and economy possible. We want to make the vehicle maintenance process quick, easy and as pleasant an experience as possible.

Now, let’s set that concept aside for a moment. I want to briefly talk about a theory called, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. It basically states that in certain circumstances it’s impossible to obtain accurate measurements or readings of certain items because of the nature of the measuring methods. The principle also states the simple act of merely measuring the item in question changes it fundamentally, thus preventing the ability to obtain an accurate measurement.

A crude yet perfect example of this principle in action every day in your lube shop is the measurement of tire pressure. It’s virtually impossible to take a reading of the tire’s pressure without losing some of the air as soon as you remove the tire gauge, thus changing the pressure and rendering the pressure reading you just obtained inaccurate. Of course, the miniscule amount of pressure lost in this fashion is insignificant in the real world, so it’s of little or no consequence. But, it’s a fact that the principle is true.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is often confused with another theory called the Observer Effect. This theory states the simple act of trying to measure or observe an item will change it in some fundamental fashion.

A perfect example of the Observer Effect is wildlife photography. For years, professional photographers have used extreme long-range zoom lenses and the stealthiest of methods to try to get close enough to wild animals to capture them living and acting in their natural environment. There are some spectacularly beautiful moments captured on film and video of what we always believed to be animals acting naturally in their natural environments.   

However, with the advent of extremely sophisticated satellite photography within the last several years, it has become apparent that we were never able to truly capture any animal acting completely natural in its own environment. It turns out, no matter how stealthy and secretive a photographer is and no matter what long-range cameras he or she may have been using, the animals were still fundamentally aware that there was something out there watching them. This caused them to become defensive and alter their normal and natural behaviors in non-defensive situations.

With the advent of sophisticated ultra-long range satellite photography, it’s possible to observe wild animals exhibiting their natural behavior in an uninhibited and defenseless manner because we are looking at them from outer space! There’s no possibility that the animals are aware they’re being observed at any particular moment, and they go about their natural behaviors uninhibited by any defensive postures.

This has led to amazing new and different understandings of animal instinct and behavior. Before the technology was available, we were never able to get the observation done. These theories, combined with my own experiences and observations over the years, have led me to a theory of my own.


Kit Sullivan’s Defensive Blindness Principle

A defense is, in its simplest definition, a barrier between you and whatever you are trying to defend yourself from. A defense can manifest itself in mental or physical states — or both. A defense can also be political, sociological or professionally motivated. A defense can take the extreme form of only being preventive. But no matter how it’s perceived, a defense is a barrier between the defender (you) and the opponent (what you are defending yourself from).

Physical barriers are more obvious forms of defense. Brick and steel walls are hard to penetrate, making for good defensive structures. The idea is simple, put something tough between you and your potential attacker.

A defense can also be a barrier to put into place when needed. How about skilled martial arts training or any variety of weapons? This defensive barrier is ready to be deployed whenever it may be necessary. How about mental barriers as a defense? You certainly don’t tell everybody every personal detail about your life — or at least you shouldn’t. This would make it far too easy for someone else to potentially cause you harm with such information.

All these types of defensive barriers and every other type of defensive barrier have one thing in common: They obscure, diminish or prevent you, to some degree, in seeing or observing your potential opponent with 100-percent clarity.

Even if you are wearing a pair of prescription glasses enabling you to focus more efficiently, you still have something between your eyes and whatever it is you’re looking at, and that obscures it in some fashion. The finest, most transparent glass is just that, transparent — not invisible. It’s still there, blocking something. It may be so insignificant that it’s imperceptible to most observers, but it’s there nonetheless. People are like that. You, me, everybody you know we are like that. Natural defenses are human nature.

When your customers come to you, they may be a little defensive about the treatment they expect to receive. They’re unable to clearly see 100 percent of the positive stuff you do during the service. They’re devoting a portion of their observational and mental abilities to maintaining a defense against some unknown, potential negative experience that they feel is possible.

When a customer snaps at you by saying, “All I want is an oil change!” when you greet them with a pleasant and proper “Hello,” it’s now you who’s defensive against further such aggressive remarks. This defense mechanism on your part is exactly where the defensive blindness principal kicks in. You are now mentally and physically in an altered state and no longer capable of experiencing 100 percent of the customer’s expended energy toward you.

Some of that energy may be negative, and you are defending yourself from that. Some of that energy may also be positive, but you cannot receive positive energy because of your defensive shield you have mentally placed around yourself. You’ve become defensively blind to all positive energies from your customer that you may have been able to use to facilitate a more positive experience for you, the customer and the shop.

The key to all of this is to not let yourself get defensive with your customers. You are a skilled, trained technician. Your business is fast oil changes. You have the tools, skills and knowledge to perform those services. There’s nothing to get defensive about.

When a customer comes in and barks at you but is clearly misinformed, don’t take it personally, get angry, argue or get defensive!

It isn’t his fault or responsibility to know what he is talking about. You are the professional he came to, and you have the upper hand. You should never get angry or aggravated with any customer who may be totally incorrect about a fact they think they know. It’s not their fault they don’t understand.

 He knows not what he does — where have I heard that before? When you drop your defenses around your customers, it allows you to fully see their needs and any opportunities you may have to serve them more efficiently. When you do this, customers seem to magically drop their defenses, which allows them to experience your skills and expertise like never before. Don’t let Defensive Blindness ruin your day!

Make it happen, and I’ll see ya’ next month! 

KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email:

Related Articles

The Littlest Detail is the Biggest Thing

Go Back to the Beginning: Training and Re-Training the Smallest Details

Give 'Em the Face

You must login or register in order to post a comment.