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What Just Happened... How Perceptive Are You?

What’s Going On?

If you’ve ever tried to get a raise, or had to give a friend bad news, you know nervousness. These conversations are never fun, and just trying to figure out when to have them is part of the battle. Figuring this out requires perceptiveness. That’s the ability to pick up on the attitudes of the people around you, and changes to your own environment. It’s a huge skill that will tune you in to what’s going on around you so that you can react appropriately.

Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to go to a friend’s party? You knew your mom didn’t like you staying out too late, and wouldn’t normally let you go on a school night. But, you learned pretty quickly to ask her about it after dinner, not before, and never right as she got home from work. You probably learned that from getting denied for other things when she was in a bad mood.

You learned to be perceptive in order to give you the best chances of getting the outcome you wanted.

Three Steps to Be More Perceptive

The same idea applies at work and is really useful for important conversations like that raise, taking on a new project, or just getting help from a coworker. You need to stay aware so that you know what’s going on with the rest of your coworkers, your team, and your boss. It makes it much easier to navigate office politics when you know what everyone is up to. You can practice this anywhere, and bring these skills right back to work.

We do this with our friends and family all of the time. We can tell a friend is having a rough time because she’s quieter than normal, or our uncle is happy because he whistles more when he’s in a good mood. These are things we’ve learned from years of being around these people and tuning into them, without us ever putting much thought into how we figured all this out.

But it’s easy to actively become more perceptive and see when we’re getting better at it.


When we walk down the street, many times we have our headphones in. We don’t hear anything that’s going on around us other than the music we’re blasting. Take a walk around your neighborhood without headphones. What are people talking about around you? What sounds can you hear that you aren’t normally aware of? Can you make out passing conversations?

You should also be listening at work. There’s usually a couple main topics floating around, even if it’s only about a holiday that just passed, or a new product release. Listen to what people are saying, so that you can gauge how everyone is feeling. Knowing the general morale and attitude of your co-workers will also alert you to anything that is out of the ordinary and needs attention.

Be observant

One of my favorite pastimes is people watching. I love to see how people go about their day. This is a great activity to build up your perceptiveness. It’s also a lot of fun. The next time you’re at the mall, take notice of who’s around you. I like to play a game with myself where I look at someone for about three seconds and then look away. Then I try to remember: What were they wearing? What did they look like? What are they doing? How many people were they with?

Look back and see how many you got right. This will all make you more attuned to what’s going on around the office. Who’s there and who’s missing? How does everyone seem to be acting?

Ask questions

Many people dread small talk. It can be convoluted and frustrating. But taking a simple observation and phrasing it as a question is a great way to lead in to better conversation. If you’re already being observant, you’ve got a quick and easy in to start asking questions and start a conversation. This shows that you’re interested in what the other person is doing, and makes it easy for them to respond. It’s not an “automatic,” question, like “How are you today?” that isn’t unique and doesn’t show much more than vague interest in their presence. But, asking a specific question like, “Drinking coffee today and not tea? Need more caffeine to get through your Monday?” This is a much more personal question and directed right to them.

Perceptiveness is Learned

We’ve become very good at distracting ourselves from the world with our phones, laptops, and headphones. Anywhere we go now, we can make the choice to ignore everyone and completely absorb ourselves in our own world. This is exactly why we struggle with perceptiveness. When you’re not listening, observing, and asking questions, you’re not able to get information about the people around you or your environment. Making small changes to your normal habits can have a huge impact. Stop robbing yourself of an opportunity to connect, learn more about the world you’re in, and make the most of it.

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