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How to Improve Observation Skills: Tips for 2023

Observation is a crucial part of problem-solving, emotional intelligence, and simply being present in the world. Here are some tips for tuning in.
by Tania Strauss | Jan 30 2023

Observation skills are the ability to notice details about a person, situation, or environment and use them to form understanding. This is important to many aspects of life, whether you need to navigate a complex social situation or make your way through the world without getting hit by a car. 

In the workplace, observation skills can help you tune into what colleagues are thinking and feeling, identify and solve a problem, learn new things, or interpret an important event. Observation is also tightly linked to emotional intelligence, which is increasingly recognized as an essential professional skill, particularly in leadership or in any customer-facing role. 

So if you want to increase your powers of observation and analysis, and see how it can benefit many areas of your life, here are some tips to get you started: 

Be curious

In addition to simply prompting you to pay attention, curiosity can spur you to ask questions and try to uncover the meaning of what you’re seeing. Curiosity itself isn’t a skill to master, so much as a mindset to cultivate – looking at the world, and the people in it, as though there is always something interesting to learn from it.

Curiosity will help you be more present, will help you notice more, and crucially inspire you to analyze what you observe and make something of that information. 

Practice being present – also known as mindfulness 

The most fundamental aspect of observation is fully taking in what’s around you. This means that you need to be present, and paying attention to, your surroundings without getting distracted by a million other things. 

Whether you’re at work, at a restaurant, or running errands, take a moment to tune into what’s around you. Quiet your mind, and try to collect data on your surroundings: the light, the temperature, the sounds, and the colors.

Then hone in on some specifics and details, whether it’s the body language of the people at the next table over at a coffee shop, the details of a painting or poster hanging in a waiting room, or the way the placement of furniture affects how people walk through a space. Or simply notice how light hits the objects in your living room in the morning versus afternoon. 

In addition to building a vital skill set, being in the moment is also just a nice way to appreciate the world around you – and it’s good for your mental health too!

Take notes on what you see

If you want to really develop your ability to hone in on details, it can be very helpful to take notes on all the things you’re observing. Write down what you notice about a person’s clothes, tone of voice, or body language. Or note the way things are organized on a shelf. 

Taking notes can also help with recall – which is another important aspect of deepening your observational skills.  As an extra challenge, you can carefully observe a scene and then try to reconstruct it in writing at a later point in the day. 

Use games and exercises for observation and memory

All kinds of activities can be used to improve observation and memory, particularly any game that challenges you to recall something you have seen. You can find all kinds of memory exercises online, and you can also create your own – as we mentioned already, observing the details of a scene and then trying to reconstruct them later is a great way to hone your observation skills. 

Identify, and try to eliminate emotions and biases

Pretty much all of us have involuntary emotional responses and unconscious biases that affect how we see the world around us. This is a natural part of being human, because our brains are primed to interpret new information based on previous learning and experiences.

Among other things, it helps us survive by allowing us to quickly identify potential threats. However, jumping to conclusions can skew our perspective in problematic ways – rather than observing things objectively, and we’ll shove them into a story we’ve already built that may not fit this particular situation.

This is especially risky when it comes to how we deal with other people because it can cause us to stereotype them or greatly misinterpret their actions and intentions due to our personal feelings about a situation.

So when you make an observation, try to be conscious of any conclusions you’re jumping to – and ask yourself whether that conclusion is based on evidence that is directly related to the current situation. If it’s not, let it go. 

Practice drawing conclusions 

Once you’ve learned to pay attention to what is happening around you, analyzing and drawing conclusions is the next step. 

What can you glean about a person’s emotional state from their body language and tone of voice? Are they happy? Angry, and maybe trying not to show it? If you can understand how a person is feeling, you can adjust your own approach to better address their concerns and have a productive interaction. 

If faced with a problem at work that you need to get to the bottom of, your powers of observation can help you notice things that may have been overlooked – whether it’s a design flaw, an automated process that may be outdated, or something physically unsafe that could result in an accident. Observational skills can also help you come up with creative solutions by helping you remember relevant things that you may have seen elsewhere.

Everything stored in your memory is a potential resource waiting to be tapped. 

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