What Your Powers of Observation Say About You

During the recent US Presidential election, some friends and I were in a bar watching a news story about a particular early-voting location in Clark County, Nevada, where I live. Being a bar, the sound on the TV was down, and closed captioning was on.

“Oh my God,” one friend said, “they’re going to invalidate all the votes in Clark County!”

“Um,” I said, “that’s a pretty strong conclusion to draw.

“No, that’s what it said right there!” he cried, pointing at the TV.

“No,” I replied, “it definitely did not. It said that they were challenging some of the votes cast at one polling location because they’re alleging it was open late, and the Secretary of State says all state rules were followed and nothing’s being done.”

This is one example observational skills, or lack thereof. Your observational skills tell other people a lot about you – what are you saying to them?

Another example – and far more common, and likely one you’ve run into – is people who mis-name things. “We’re going to Fish Bone for dinner,” one friend (same one) said. “You mean Bonefish?” “Sure, whatever.” This is not a good friend, mind you – and this friend routinely screws things up and gets things wrong because he or she doesn’t bloody pay attention. 

Let’s be clear on something: this isn’t a communications rant. I knew what this person meant, and so the goal of communications – a transfer of knowledge and intent – was accomplished. But I don’t trust this person, because they don’t pay attention to details. 

It’s easy enough to think, “well, the exact names of these things aren’t all that important, you know what I meant,” and from a communications perspective, sure. Close enough is usually good enough. But not getting the details right says something about you to other people, and what it says is not always good. Poor observational skills – e.g., not paying attention to names, places, times, and other details – can make you look sloppy, careless, lazy, misinformed, or – in the most extreme cases – stupid. None of those are things you should actively want to portray yourself as, especially in crucial work or social situations.

So bone up on those powers of observation. Details do matter, although not always for the reasons you may have been thinking of.

And it’s “on-premises,” not “on-premise,” by the way. Details.