Here’s an anecdote I seem to use often these days, whether I’m talking about people I work with or my own kids. I think it’s something everyone should think about, especially in this age of self-centered people.
I grew up on a livestock farm, which means lots of fences and gates to drive through when you’re doing chores. If I was standing in the yard and I saw my dad or someone else driving toward a gate, it was my natural instinct to go open the gate. Same thing if he was backing up to a trailer, my instinct was to walk over and hook it up for him. I honestly don’t remember a time when I was young enough to not have those instincts. Not only that, if I were to have just stood there and not helped, my dad would have probably thought I lost my brains.
So, why did I naturally react the way I did? I think it boils down to two things: observation and anticipation.
For whatever reason, whether it’s just inherent in my brain or whether I somehow learned it young, I tend to observe everything around me. I notice things. I notice people. I watch people doing things and try to figure out their reasoning. On the farm, I notice when the tractor noise is getting louder, since that means it’s getting closer. I notice the direction it’s coming from, so I know which gate he’ll probably be coming through.
Some people don’t have the tendency to observe things. My wife drove our oldest daughter back and forth 10 blocks to elementary school every day for 4 years. Her sister, 3 years younger, rode along every single time for the first 3 years and was dropped off at that school for the next 3 years. A 10-block trip, driven the same way for 6 years straight, and yet she couldn’t sit in the car and tell you how to get to the school. She couldn’t walk home without getting lost. Somehow in 6 years she’d never paid any attention to how she got to school. I suppose somewhere in her head she figured she wasn’t driving so she didn’t need to know. On the contrary, when I was little we probably took a 25-mile drive to my grandparents in the country 3-4 times a year. I could have driven that path myself by her age.
In my mind, anticipation goes along with, but follows, observation. If you don’t observe your surroundings, it’s hard to anticipate what’s going to happen or what people are going to do. If I don”t pay any attention to the noise of the tractor coming down the drive, I surely won’t anticipate that he’s going to want to drive through the gate.
If you can learn to observe and anticipate, you’ll give yourself an advantage in a lot of ways. For example, if you like someone and want to make an impression, observe them! Pay attention, learn what they like and don’t like. Notice when their coffee cup is running empty and bring them a new cup while you’re getting yours.
Use those same skills to learn what management in your company likes. Observe the successful people in your company. Anticipate your boss and have the project plan ready before he asks for it. You’ll make a positive impression.