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Tips and tricks

Here are some techniques on observation and writing about others. They are designed to help you ask better questions and have more productive conversations with others. We don’t always have to ask hardball questions, sometimes it’s about making observations and asking questions people enjoy answering. In other times we can laugh and connect over a complaint.

I carry a small Moleskine journal and my iPhone to jot down quick statements. The idea is to connect language to thoughts and phrases. I might sketch or write to remove the obfuscation of jargon or even make note of the jargon someone is using. If you listen closely enough you can guess what they do before they even tell you. After I speak with someone I go back to my raw notes and review. The Google search engine has a wonderful function that if you put the word “define” or “synonym” before any other word it will show the definition and give you some alternate words to consider. Sometimes the act of having to wrestle with our words helps us settle our opinions. The idea is to strip away the unconscious bias that comes up about this person.

What are you curious about? If your words or art create curiosity, this is the first step to creating awareness about it for your team. What was it that attracted you to observing it closer? Can you say it in a different way without using clichés. Maybe you need to alter your tone, your cadence and the very words you use. Can you determine if the situation is a cooperative conversation or a competitive one?

Pay close attention to what you are paying attention to. You have to pause your thinking to see it. Sometimes it is simple to see why something or someone has our attention. Still there are other times when our subconscious is picking at us telling us to look at something. Is there some subtle beauty that we notice about person or place? I’m not talking about lust and pornography, I’m talking about noticing if the person is disheveled or put together as they say. Maybe they have an interesting mix and match wardrobe. What is their idiolect like? Maybe they speak in a high pitch voice or have a clipped speech pattern. There are so many unspoken clues to tell us more about this person. 

Listening can be hard work. You have to find something to suspend your own opinion. If you find your mind drifting or wanting to check your phone replace the impulse by having a tactile object in your hand that you can fiddle with. You might have to experiment with an object to find the right one for you. You have to subordinate your own thought bubbles when they come up. If I am drifting off, I find it helps to imagine me clipping them off with scissors as they arise. The more we think we know, the harder it can be to listen. Some people are easy to listen to while others require more effort. Give yourself the permission to admit this. It might be because of their voice or appearance or some other distraction. If you are a parent, listening intently is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Want to help a young child learn? Ask them to explain the topic to you while you gently guide them. If you get to a point where you are both unsure then you can laugh and bond about it.