Content of the material
- WHAT ARE CRITICAL OBSERVATION SKILLS?
- Safety in the Workplace
- Watch the video
- What’s wrong with this photo?
- Idea Log
- Observation for Real Life
- Observation skills in the workplace
- Be present
- Ask for feedback
- Notice how the details relate to the bigger picture
- Examples of observation skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Critical thinking
- Attention to detail
- How to improve observational skills: Practice removing distractions
- How to improve observation skills: Reaction vs. response
WHAT ARE CRITICAL OBSERVATION SKILLS?
Critical Observation skill is the act of scouting things with high sensitive vigilance- whether checking the market trends, change in people’s behaviour, or assessing a problem before it becomes a crisis. Put in other words, it is the ability of a person to look at things to observe subtleties in a way to handle situations or people more tactfully.
It requires filtering out the relevant information while disparaging the trivial data so emphasis can be extended to what is meaningful and what has significance.
Day-to-day leadership and leadership positions require this capacity to apply thought to provide guidance, propose next steps, bring wellbeing and peace in times of uncertainty.
Safety in the Workplace
Being observant and paying attention at work is essential for safety. In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 476,700 cases of non-fatal injuries and 304 fatal injuries in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing ranks in the top 5 industries for incidences of occupational injuries and illnesses [BLS, 2013] , [BLS, 2013].
Watch the video
Workplace safety training videos can be hilarious, but getting hurt and being exposed to health hazards is no joke. With so much emphasis on legislation, regulation, and safety in the workplace, many employees still walk into an area and don’t know what to properly look and listen for. Practicing paying attention in the workplace makes us safer in several ways. First, following proper procedures and guidelines, or doing things “by the book,” prevents accidents. Guidelines and regulations are developed from lessons learned after accidents and mishaps. Second, paying attention to detail enhances our situational awareness. Situational awareness is the attention to different elements in your environment, understanding their meaning, and recognizing potential dangers before they happen. It requires using your senses, being familiar with the machinery and with the people around you, to be able to see, hear, feel, or smell trouble brewing. Simply put, it’s tuning into what’s going on around you.
Situational awareness is more of a mindset than a hard skill. There are two important parts to situational awareness: being aware of what is going on around you and taking responsibility for your own safety and the safety of others. It may come easily to some, but for most people, it is something that we must constantly strive to improve. For example, looking both ways before crossing the street, requires observing, processing, and understanding the world around us allows us to consider our risks before taking action. In this case, when to cross the street.Tips
- Accidents often occur because someone was in a hurry or took a short cut.
- Keep your focus on quality and safety.
- If a task seems too risky, stop and ask questions.
- Ask questions about anything you do not understand or any procedure that is not clear.
- Don’t ignore unsafe habits of others. Speaking to your coworkers about their unsafe habits could keep them from being injured.
- Take safety training seriously. Training gives you the knowledge to keep yourself and others safe.
What’s wrong with this photo?
How many safety hazards can you find? Click on the image below to open the activity in a new window.
How many issues did you identify? What did you miss?
Observation for Real Life
What’s a strategy you’ve taught people like the FBI that us normal folks can use?
Dr. Matsumoto is a former instructor for the FBI National Academy. He told us:
If you want to be better at this skill [decoding, reading people, spotting lies], observe.Dr. Matsumoto
Based on his experience, Dr. Matsumoto sees so many people having interactions who are not really observing. He believes it is absolutely possible to be both an active listener and an active observer.
This is not a passive task, Dr. Matsumoto revealed. To be a good observer, one must notice the signals occurring and also process what those signals may be revealing about the person.
This is a tough cognitive task and takes practice!
How would someone break down this observation skill into homework for themselves?
Dr. Matsumoto suggested honing your observation abilities on your commute, at work or even sitting on a park bench. He also offered you this challenge:
Challenge: Beef up your observation skills by counting how many times I (Vanessa) raised my right hand in the above video. See the final count at the end!
Dr. Matsumoto tested this exact observational challenge when he traveled to Japan–a self-proclaimed, conservatively expressive culture. He watched a five-minute video of a Japanese man talking and counted hundreds of hand gestures. In five minutes! This is way more than the person thought they used. Sometimes, how we think we express is different from what we actually express. This is why it’s so important to observe our own nonverbal and that of others.
Do you have a favorite show that you watch to practice your decoding skills?
Dr. Matsumoto recommended watching the news to see expressions in their natural habitat. He especially likes watching politicians in interviews. This context leads to natural displays of expressions like a scripted or prepared message can’t provide.
Challenge: Pick one of the seven microexpressions and count how many times someone uses it. This can be in person or on TV!
How often are you distracted while working? It’s a question that’s almost laughable, right? Most of us are distracted more than five times an hour. We get emails and phone calls. We take breaks and browse the Internet. Co-workers stop by for a quick chat and friends send us amusing instant messages. Distractions happen every day, and they are costly. A 2007 report by Basex, a business research company, estimated that distractions cost U.S. businesses $588 billion per year [Spira, 2007].
A recent study found that an interruption as short as 2.8 seconds results in high error rates [Altman, 2013]. Then it can take 25 minutes, on average, to resume a task after being interrupted. After resuming the task, says Tom DeMarco, co-author of “Peopleware,” a book on productivity, it can take an additional 15 minutes to regain the same intense focus you had before the interruption [DeMarco, 2013].
What are the biggest distractions? CareerBuilder’s 2014 survey reveals that technology is the leading culprits. One in four workers admitted that, during a typical workday, they will spend at least one hour a day on personal calls, emails, or texts. Twenty-one percent estimate that they spend one hour or more searching the Internet for non-work-related information [Career Builder, 2014].
Managing your focus and knowing how to handle distractions are valuable skills that can be easily learned. These skills improve your focus and prevent costly and fatal mistakes.
Observation skills in the workplace
Here are a few ways that you can use observation skills at work:
Whether you're having a conversation or you're in a meeting, focusing fully on the moment allows you to contribute in a more meaningful way. During a meeting, taking notes is a great way to ensure that you remain engaged.
Ask for feedback
Observing the other person's facial expressions and body language helps recognize how they're interpreting the information you're sharing, but it's still important to directly ask people for their feedback. By giving them a chance to share what they're thinking or feeling and then actively listening to their response, you can make sure that you are communicating effectively and address any misunderstandings before they become bigger issues.
Notice how the details relate to the bigger picture
Being detail-oriented allows you to observe situations and surroundings more critically, but it's important to observe how these small details fit into the broader scope. This allows you to better understand issues so that you can develop solutions.
Examples of observation skills
Observation skills are dependent on several other abilities and attributes, such as:
Attention to detail
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of effective communication is the ability to actively listen. When you possess this skill, you can dedicate your focus to the person speaking, comprehend their message and respond in an appropriate and thoughtful manner. You do this by paying attention to the speaker's verbal and nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. As a result, you can engage in the conversation and recall its details without needing to ask the speaker to repeat information.
Aside from improving your relationships and interpersonal skills, active listening ensures that your verbal and written communication is more accurate.
The ability to evaluate and regulate your own emotions as well as recognize and empathize with the emotions of others is a skill that is known as emotional intelligence. Though this skill's primary benefit is that it helps you connect with those around you and build meaningful relationships, it's also a powerful tool of observation. By identifying the emotional state of others, you can better recognize how you should interact with and respond to those around you.
Your ability to think critically has a significant influence on your observation skills. Critical thinking, or the ability to analyze context and facts so that you can thoroughly understand a topic or problem, requires you to remain objective as you identify issues and develop effective solutions.
Attention to detail
Attention to detail is the ability to approach and accomplish tasks with thoroughness and accuracy. This skill plays a strong role in productivity, but it's also key to effective observation because it allows you to recognize small details and adjust your actions to accommodate them.
How to improve observational skills: Practice removing distractions
While we mostly adore technology, we understand the perils of it in a work context too. It’s very distraction-heavy and there are numerous ways someone can get in touch with you and derail what you’re working on. If you’re constantly in reactive mode around pings and instant messages, you won’t observe much — rather, you’ll just become a task jockey above all else.
We see this borne out in marketing too: in the 1980s, marketers needed to get in front of a prospect 6-8 times to be successful. Now it’s considered 20+ times, and a lot of that comes from reduced attention spans. While the attention span science is mixed on whether or not attention span has actually declined in the last two generations, we definitely do know that there’s more ways for someone to be distracted, and that cuts into observation skills and general attention.
If you start thinking and researching the neuroscience and biology of how we pay attention, you realize that the goal is to need to retrain your brain to pay attention to what’s important at that moment. Dr. Daniel Simons frames this up in the context of the entertainment industry:
So script supervisors, the people who work on movie sets, know how to look for particular kinds of mistakes that might end up into a movie that would be noticed. And they look for specifically those – and they ignore the other stuff that’s never going to matter, or the stuff that’s never going to end up across a cut.
What they know, that most people don’t, is that their memory is lousy, that they can’t rely on their memory. And they know to take all sorts of notes and keep careful track of the things that are likely to matter.
One way to handle this and train your brain is to block out uninterrupted work time on your calendar, or set aside an entire day where you just focus on bigger-picture issues and turn off connective devices, don’t check email, etc. It can be hard if you’re mostly a reactive, task-driven person — but it’s important to focus more deeply and observe what’s around you. If your organization goes to a hybrid model in 2021 and 2022, use some of your work-from-home days to focus more deeply and also …
How to improve observation skills: Reaction vs. response
A lot of this discussion does come back to reaction vs. response, which is a very important issue at work as well.
The difference: “Reaction” tends to be quicker. It can almost make the recipient feel on the defensive. “Response” tends to be thoughtful and contain reasoning. Here’s a good primer. “Reaction” is more instinctual and tied to our “reptilian” brain; “response” is a bit more evolved and tied to our developed brain.
You need stronger observation skills, generally, to “respond” to work issues. Reaction does not require tremendous observation skills.
In this Tim Ferriss-Tony Robbins podcast, Robbins has a good line in there about business culture.
Here’s the set up: once you move past 2-3 employees, the law of averages is not on your side. If you have 10 employees, there’s a good chance that, at some point in the day, someone will screw something up. If you have 20, there’s a bigger chance. What if you have 10,000? 75,000? There’s a chance something is being screwed up at every second.
You’ve got two choices in this situation: “reaction” — hair-on-fire screeching about everything — or “response,” where you realize problems will happen and you deal with things thoughtfully as they arise.
In order to be a manager (or even an employee) that can contextualize failure in a “response” manner, you need observation skills, because you need to be able to see both the minute details of what happened and the bigger picture as well. That’s how to build observation skills. That’s observation and listening. If you are a more reactionary employee or manager, you will respond to the initial set of stimuli above all. Long-term, that doesn’t improve conditions and may foster more stress and burnout.
One of the core benefits of developing observation skills, then, is that you can become a more responsive manager, employee, and co-worker — which benefits both you, your team, and the organization in the long run.