Monday, August 23, 2010

How Are Your Observation Skills? Six Tips for Improving Them

How Are Your Observation Skills? Six Tips for Improving Them

I just went out to take the recycling bin to the curb for the way-too-early truck that will come rumbling down our street in the morning, and as I headed back to the house, I noticed a small lizard on the window. Haven't seen too many of them this season, but I do love the little guys (and gals). He was noticeable to me because of the backlighting of the dining room window, but it occurred to me that most people would probably have missed him clinging to the screen and then scurrying away as I approached the door.

We've all got special skills - one of mine has always been observation. I'm not really sure why, but it always seemed to bug my sister, niece, and other family members that I was so observant. If someone got a haircut, shaved their mustache, or started wearing glasses, I always noticed. I noticed if the gas tank was full or empty, and where the mail carrier was in the neighborhood as I went by. This skill serves me now, as I spend a lot more time on my bike these days!

It also helps in my work as an editor, because I notice words, phrases, and constructions that others tend to miss. Was listening to an NPR news report yesterday, and the reporter said, "The White House reckons..." OK - I'm not perfect in my observation because I can't recall now what it was the White House reckoned, but I did notice the use of the word reckon because it was so oddly colloquial in this otherwise professional report.

Regardless of your business or industry, I'm willing to bet that stronger observation skills will help you improve your work, too. It will certainly enable you to write with more detail and clarity - e-mail, blogs, memos, eBooks ... you name it. Think about it. Aren't you much more likely to get a helpful response if you change Example A below to become more like Example B?
EXAMPLE A: My manager wanted me to ask you about the shipment.

EXAMPLE B: Stephanie Jones suggested I contact you to find out the anticipated arrival date for the wireless server we ordered last week.
Sure - it's easy for you. You already said you've got a natural talent for observation. I don't. I honestly wouldn't notice a snake if it were about to bite me!

Well, yes. Some people are not as naturally observant as others. The first thing is that you've got to want to improve your observation skills. Here are a few tips - almost all have to do with a little notion known as practice:
  • Be aware of your surroundings and the space you consume within them. At the grocery store, in line at the post office, waiting to return a movie at the dollar-a-day kiosk. Are there others in line with you? Are you crowding them? Are they crowding you? Do you stop at the top of a stairwell when others are coming up behind you? Simply choosing to notice how you use your space will make you a lot more aware of other areas of your life.
  • Routinely make eye contact with the people you encounter during your day. Make a mental note about each person. Male or female. Short. Dressed up or casual. Hat or scarf. Ethnicity. Tattoos or piercings. Not that you're practicing to give details to a police sketch artist, but just begin noticing the people around you.
  • Don't diss Where Is Waldo? Books like that and card games like Concentration, where the goal is to remember where individual cards are laid out on the table, can be great practice vehicles for growing your observation skills.
  • On your way home from work, the market, or any familiar route, make a point every day this week of noticing something you've never seen before. Make and model of a neighbor's car. A flower bed. Toys in a yard. Just open your eyes and start seeing.
  • Use all of your senses, not just your eyes. Pay attention to the sounds and smells and textures that surround you. These will help heighten your sense of awareness. Also, use your peripheral vision, rather than focusing only on the things that are immediately in front of you.
  • Write it down. Take notes on things that interest you or you would like to remember. Book titles, Web addresses, music. Be open to the world, and if you see something you'd like to know more about, make a note and then do the research.
Work on your powers of observation and you'll be amazed at the return on this simple investment.

This is Day 34 in the 60-Day Content Challenge. I've been posting every day since I accepted the challenge on July 21st. See you tomorrow for the next post! Laura

Sign up today for Laura's next workshop, Want to Charge More? Start Writing! Or e-mail your writing, marketing, or design questions to Laura.

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