Observation as a Powerful Learning Tool

I have to admit, I like to talk. But boy do I love to listen! Listening is one of those simple acts that results in enormous positive outcomes. Many articles have been written about the importance of listening, but I have not found nearly as many on observing.

Observing is another easy skill to master. The results are equally impacting and help all of us look up and around instead of focusing on a small space around us. Recently, I was in the grocery store line and a man in front of me started looking around. He almost got out of line in front of me but then didn’t. He seemed agitated. Finally is sighed very loudly and left the line. A few minutes later he was back with a loaf of bread he’d forgotten. By this time three people had lined up behind me. I saw his shoulders slump and face grimace as he returned. He looked rushed.

I asked, loudly enough that all three of them could hear, if I could let him back in line in front of me. He had all of 4 items to buy. All three of them nodded in unison and I waved him in. He visibly relaxed and thanked me profusely during the minute or so it took the cashier to ring him up. He added that he was late for dinner with his wife of 3 months. I was not rushed and was glad to have the opportunity to help someone out. The lady behind me said something the effect of ‘I’m really glad you did that; we should all try to do something similar when we have the chance’. The cashier gave me a free reusable bag adding that he appreciated the kindness.

I did not make a conscious decision to act kindly. I did not contemplate the results in advance. I just observed and thought that I could help this person out. I could have been looking at my Blackberry or talking on the phone. But I had made the conscious decision to try not doing that when I’m in the grocery store line. Instead, I try to engage with the people around me. No, not in a weird, ‘let’s talk’ kind of way, but just to observe and to recognize them—to thank the clerk checking me out or to help an older person get something heavy out of their cart.

At work we’ve all spent time brainstorming and planning, which we all should. But listening and observing patiently and actively almost always results in us better understanding the needs of our clients. It’s like a free road map of what our clients needs are. Recognizing and acting on their needs helps us provide better service, which is always our goal So here’s to opening the ears AND THE EYES!

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