Being a Passive Observer!

Last month, I got to meet a lot of people at work as a part of a user research activity for a product. I was facilitating this and had to ensure we picked random people from different experience groups and units so that we had a diverse crowd and more importantly, a more diverse feedback. I’d spoken to all these people just once through phone to introduce myself and tell them what exactly I wanted. They all seemed the same over phone but when I met them in person they were so different from each other.

It was an interesting activity for me, personally, because I’ve never met and spoken to so many different people in just over a week and the observations were interesting!

The ones who got my attention the most were those who had very little to speak. It was like expecting a detailed answer and getting a yes or no reply. It was a challenge indeed to get them to speak without it sounding like a Q&A session. Some did get into a comfort zone and started expressing their thoughts without inhibitions, while for some it still proved difficult to get them talking. It was not that people were being careful about what they were speaking, it looked like they were just not comfortable speaking more than a sentence per minute.

There was one senior person who spoke so well, it was a pleasure listening to what he spoke and importantly the way he spoke. The carefully chosen words and the well-spaced pauses, the pleasant tone and just the right answers for the right questions, neither too vague nor too abrupt. Many of them place emphasis on the content, without thinking about content delivery. What good use is a story, if the storyteller cannot hold the attention of the audience for even a few minutes?

When you’re in an enterprise, you’d come across a lot of people who are extremely diplomatic that you would need to read between the lines to make sense of what they’re trying to convey. Despite repeatedly telling people that we wanted honest feedback, and we were doing it to improve the product and not to test their ability, some people just wouldn’t call a spade, a spade.

You know how some people annoy the hell out of you even if they do something trivial, I was lucky enough to meet even that kind of a person. He was a personification of everything one shouldn’t be. He spoke when he was not required to, and was a self-proclaimed expert who didn’t take it lightly when his beliefs and statements were questioned for logic.

Through this activity, I noticed that the knowledgeable ones were able to articulate their thoughts in a way everyone could understand. They explained the most complicated problems in the most simplest way. I find a lot of people try to flaunt their vocabulary when trying to make someone understand something. They fail to understand that the purpose is lost, if the other person doesn’t grasp a single word. They fail to understand that it is more of a test for their communication skills and not their vocabulary!

As I was mentally grouping people whom I thought were interesting, boring and annoying, I wondered in which group all these participants would put me in. Just as I was a passive observer, I knew they must have noticed something or observed when I spoke. I was curious to ask someone, but was worried if they would brand me as a boring person. Everyone thinks highly of themselves and so do I, but when it comes to reality, sometimes it gets difficult to digest the truth. It was one of those rare moments when I choose to stay away from finding the truth. I told myself I was better off without knowing.

Well, ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? 🙂

So, have you ever had a chance to interact with a diverse group of strangers? If yes, do let me know what you observed about them. I’m sure they are interesting!

12 thoughts on “Being a Passive Observer!

  1. “What good use is a story, if the storyteller cannot hold the attention”. Absolutely correct. It is the delivery. When a stand up comedian tells a joke we all laugh. But if we repeat the same joke, no one laughs.

    My boss once asked me to go to a HR Class in the last minute. I got pissed off. I went to that class any way. The subject was “who would you hire”. When my turn came, I said I would hire someone if he/she is like me. That triggered a huge discussion. A few people thought I was disrupting the class.

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  2. Totally agree that people who truly understand will explain things in the most simple terms and others will just bombard you with the most ridiculous sentences to hide their ignorance!

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  3. Keeping the things simple is perhaps the best way to maintain communication. Your observations are perfect as this is the kind of group dynamics at work in every place , Ashwini:)

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  4. I recall Desmond Moriss's book “Man watching”.
    Well there he quotes a lot of anecdote involving primates. Nevertheless here as you may have seen there is much in common in many respects. You are right people like to flaunt, to show off their impressive side.

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  5. Exactly. I have seen people turn around ordinary content into something really worthwhile just with the way they communicate the thoughts. Content is important, but the delivery is even more important!

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  6. Observing people helps us learn if what they say and what they do are in sync. And I realized that often, though people claim it to be in sync', they are not!

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