Noticing What YOU Notice

During a vacation i had a chance to read very interesting book – “Inner game of work”

I just want to share one part of the book, which explains how observation of critical variables can help to initiate improvement. But most difficult part is not to start throwing solutions on the table too soon or start judging what you see.

In any situation, one of the best ways of finding a critical variable to focus on is to notice what you are already noticing.

What does this mean? If you ask three people to look out the same window and then ask each one to tell you what “stood out,” they will come up with three different answers. Of the thousands of possibilities in the entire scene, one person notices that there’s a hole in the roof of the farmhouse in the distance, another the colors of the sky, another the turning leaves on a nearby sycamore tree.

The same thing takes place when you meet a person, or view a business problem, or look at a product. Everyone’s attention is selective. What is being selected can often tell you something important about the viewer, as well as about what is being viewed.

When coaching either an athlete or a businessperson, listening for what stands out in a given situation gives valuable clues about where to direct the focus of attention. For example, a team of managers I was working with asked me to help with improving the quality of their meetings. When I asked the standard question, “What stands out for you as you observe your meetings?” three simple observations were made: (1) “We don’t stick to the agenda.” (2) “Meetings neither start nor end on time.” (3) “A few of the people do most of the talking.”

It would have been possible to do an in-depth analysis of the meetings and generate from them a set of remedies to change behaviors.

The approach I took was simpler. I asked one manager to focus on “adherence to agenda.” He would do no more than raise his hand each time he observed the conversation wandering. Another manager observed the starting and ending time of the meeting, an observation that evolved into tracking the amount of time allotted and spent on each agenda item. A third manager kept track of the frequency and total length of time each person spoke.

No corrections were ever recommended or enforced. But over the next few weeks, merely by virtue of the team’s heightened awareness of these variables, meetings started and ended on time, there were fewer and fewer instances of wandering off the agenda, and participation became more evenly distributed and speaking more succinct.

I used to tell tennis students that if they didn’t like the instructions coming from a tennis professional or a partner, they could always change the instructions from a behavioral command to the observation of a critical variable. If the pro said, “You aren’t hitting the ball in front of you,” they could simply start observing where they were in fact making contact with the ball, trusting Self 2 to make the corrections automatically. In the same way, many requests for change from a manager, from a customer, or even from yourself are often best handled neither by compliance nor resistance, but by simple observation of the variables embedded in the command.”

In a performance review, a manager might be told, “You have to stop being so critical of your subordinates. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from them about you on that.” Perhaps the manager agrees. But instead of internalizing the command “Don’t be critical,” what would happen if he simply decided to make “criticalness” a variable to observe, in his own communication and others’? If he decided just to take notice and see what happened? I’m guessing that after he actually became aware of how much of it was happening, he would then find it decreasing—or at least becoming more appropriate…