I am blessed in my coaching practice to be able to work with a lot of coaches. Everything from students who are learning the craft to executive leaders who use coaching as a leadership tool.
I Have an Observation
The skill of observation is underdeveloped. Here is what I mean.
This morning I am sitting having some quiet time of meditation and prayer. As I was sitting in contemplation I noticed the breeze that was whisking through the trees in the conservation area behind my house at varying rates of force. At times the leaves in the trees were hardly moving, and then, with no warning, the speed would increase to a gust force. After a minute or so the air would return to a more moderate flow.
This is the skill of observation. Blocking out all other inputs and paying attention to this one thing, and then not making any judgment about it. Don’t turn it into a metaphor, or think about how to explain it. Just observe it and practice describing it.
This skill is harder to do than it is to read about, I can assure you. As leaders, we are constantly making cause and effect assumptions. We become skilled at what is rewarded, making decisions or explaining things so that others can understand them. All very important skills. I am not trying to say that your decision-making is not important, it for sure is. In fact, I often tell young leaders what they get paid to do is make judgments. However, if we believe that quality inputs are critical to good judgment then perhaps observation trumps outcome.
Give It A Try
The next meeting you go to, or one-on-one interaction you have with a colleague, write down 10 things you observe from the interaction. Just make the observation and pay attention. Dial out all the distractions that might come your way and observe behavior. Notice things like tone of voice and inflection. Notice body language. Become aware of the “presence” the person exudes.
The better we become at the skill of observation, the better coaches we will be. We will notice things such as hurt or pain in people. We will notice when they are not on their “A” game. We might notice the exuberant joy that is written all over their face. The better we are at observing, the more skilled we will be at connecting with others emotionally.
Take a Quiz
One of the reasons I like to use assessments in my practice is that they help me, as a coach, make observations. Sure, the person gets great feedback around important competencies. For example, in the EQi 2.0 assessment that I use, leaders get feedback on stress management. According to Dr. Henry Thompson, author of The Stress Effect, emotional intelligence is critical in determining the likelihood of the success of a leader.
While the EQi 2.0 can give leaders feedback on competencies like stress management, often times it is the observation of the leader in the moment that can give the information that will allow the leader to make necessary judgments. If leaders don’t observe what their followers are feeling in the moment then they are more liable to react poorly. For example, an associate comes into your office and explains they have just made a mistake that could be costly in terms of dollars and customer satisfaction. Are you able to manage your own emotion in the moment and observe what is going on with the person? Are they anxious? Is there body language closed and distant? Are they sweating?
So let's play this out. What happens if:
A. You don't observe any of the associates “presence” in the moment
B. You do observe the stress the associate is under
Answer A: It is possible you will go right into fact-finding mode. Try to find out what happened, and then your natural next step is to go into problem-solving mode and to start giving orders you want the associate to execute with precision, clarity, and focus.
What is the problem with Answer A? It isn’t physically possible when stress has hi-jacked the associate for them to focus on anything. In fact, there is a really good chance that they will walk out of your office and not remember a thing you said.
Answer B: You see the associate is stressed out, so you have them sit down. You go get them a bottle of water. You have them take a few deep breaths and perhaps you tell them a story that has a bit of self-deprecating humor. The goal here is to get the associate to relax so that you can trouble shoot and problem solve together.
What is the real skill in Answer B? You took the time to observe the situation. You notice the wind in the trees. You know the end result you need to get to but you also know you need your associate to have a clear mind when you need information.
Take Another Quiz
For this quiz, you are going to need to think about a recent interaction that you have had with an associate where there was some stress or tension in the situation. Keep this interaction in mind as you take this quiz. Use the quiz and your memory to reconstruct the events.
This quiz is not meant at all to be diagnostic. We are not trying to make you clinical psychologists. The purpose of this quiz is to help you dial in your skills of observation so that you notice more how your associates are showing up in your interactions.
I hope you enjoy the quiz. If you know others who might like to work on the skill of observation, why not forward this to them.