Do You Know the Difference?
Recently an FBI agent was asked, “What makes someone an effective profiler?” The answer was surprising and surprisingly simple: to be an effective profiler is simply to be an observant person.
I thought of that description a few weeks later when the police asked me to describe a possible trespasser. I could tell them so little about what direction they headed or the color of their clothes. I had not done a good job of observing.
So it made me think of a different meeting four decades ago. As an undergraduate student, the Constitutional Law class was my first foray into the academic world of law. The Monday morning after my first exam, I was standing in the hall way outside of the classroom when my Constitutional Law professor walked by on his way into the classroom. He said, “Good Morning.” I had been on pins and needles as to the grade on this first exam. In a moment of obsessed observance, I connected his “Good Morning” to the grade that was about to be revealed. So in sheer terror, my reply to his salutation was, “what do you mean by that?” Clearly this was the inappropriate response of an obsessed student.
On the observant continuum there is on one end obsessed with the details you observe and on the other clueless to details. In your daily life, it is a healthy observant that is your goal.
I often counsel clients to be observant. In order to protect your value, it is incumbent upon you to be observant to what those around you do, and what those around you do not do when opportunity knocks. If you pay attention to the little messages, then a big message whether it is you are hired or fired, will not come as a surprise.
The challenge is to be observant and not obsessed.
Paul was on senior staff on his way to a C-level position when Al was hired in a position slightly above him on the organizational chart. Al brought with him several members from his former company. “I wish I had a crystal ball” said Paul. Once a rising star, he wondered what this meant to his future at this company. “Be observant but not obsessed”, I counseled him.
Tim is a school superintendent. He was waiting for a second contract from his school board when the board president forgot their appointment. Was it simply a missed appointment? Or was there more to a second contract than the current superintendent was aware.
“Be observant but not obsessed,” I counseled him
Natcha, is now a year old. My little Miniature Schnauzer, who came either by accident or divine intervention to live with us, is in her forever home.
As in other aspects of communication the answer is simple. Simple, though not easy. As appealing as it may be to live in a bubble, none of us can afford the price of isolation. We need to be observant without becoming obsessive.
First, be observant of the verbal, vocal and visual of those around you. Often when we talk about the verbal, vocal and visual you are asked to think about how you communicate in these areas. In this exercise, you are asked to focus on others. The important piece is to be observant in the moment.
Second, embrace uncertainty. You do not have to know why your observation is important or what it means to the big picture. You want to look at observations like pieces of a jig saw puzzle. Alone most pieces will not finish the puzzle. When you put the pieces together, at some point you have an “ah-ha” moment and see the bigger picture.
Third, be as non-judgmental as possible in collecting information. Observations are not good or bad. It is not possible to know the value of most observations at the time you make the observation. Figuratively you want to keep them in a jar. The challenge is to make them and keep them and not be obsessed with them!
The experts say that moderation is key…to chocolate, exercise and life. The same maxim is true of observations. To not look around you and read the tea leaves could be detrimental to your forward movement. To be obsessed with every observation will surely stall you and your forward progress. The answer to chocolate and life is to be observant without being obsessed.