Observation is a key element in any good communicator’s toolkit. Seeing signs of interest, discomfort, or comprehension can guide your words, alter your plans, and shift your agenda. But if you aren’t actively looking for the way your audience is responding, you can miss some incredibly important data.

Start with a basic understanding of body languageand add in what you know about the individuals that make up your audience. It may be that Jim keeps checking his phone because he’s waiting to hear about the arrival of a new grandchild or Susan seems disinterested because she’s wiped out from three days on the road at a trade show. Use that information to help you craft your communications.

Too often, we get caught up in our need to tell what we know in a way that’s comfortable for us. We want to go at our own pace, use the words familiar to us, and drive home the points we find most valuable. When we charge forward without considering our audience, we’re neglecting at least half of the communication equation. When we include the needs, hopes, and desires or those with whom we’re speaking, we can be more powerful and persuasive. Sharpen your observation skills using the three scenarios below.

At Work

In the next meeting you attend, actively observe the interactions between your co-workers. Where can you see frustration, joy, determination, or disinterest? How can you leverage that information to create a better work environment, a more engaged team, or get buy in on your big project?

At Home

Observe how each member of your family arrives home. Do they greet one another before setting down backpacks and work bags? Do they beeline to a private space where they can be alone? Do they immediately start listing chores to be done, deadlines to be met, and when dinner will be served? Do they check in on one-another’s’ emotional well-being?  What can you learn from these behaviors that can increase the peace in your household?

In the World

Watch the person in front of you at the grocery store. How are they engaging in the discussion about a bags, payment, and their purchases? How is the checker responding? Are they trying to meet the customer where he or she is? If you happen to be the service provider, how are customers responding to you? Do they look you in the eye, smile, and wish you a good day?

When you take the time to observe others, you have valuable information to make the most well-informed decisions you can about how to move forward in an interaction. Practice your observation skills so you don’t miss potent indicators like a furrowed brow, a change in tone of voice, or disinterest.

Talk to you next week,

Amber D. Nelson


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