Thinking Out Loud

Active Noticing

In my consulting work with parents of young children, I encourage parents to notice what the child notices and then to make a comment. To some degree this is natural. When, for example, there is a loud airplane overhead and the child looks up, it is common for the parent to say, “Oh, there goes an airplane.”

It’s more complex when the parent notices the child’s inner, emotional reaction to an event. Let’s say a stranger in the supermarket reaches down and ruffles the hair of the child and says, “What a cute head of fluffy curls.”  The child looks very sober and ignores the passing stranger.

The parent could say nothing or comment. I think commenting is better, but what should the parent say? The parent could tell the child that the stranger really liked her hair or that the stranger was just trying to be friendly. Neither really validates the child’s experience, however, which is often the most important part of noticing. If the parent says, “I don’t think you liked that lady ruffling your curls,” then the child knows that the parent understands the child’s experience. From there, a discussion might proceed.  Either way, the child is seen by the parent and the emotional experience is validated.

It’s not so different in the workplace with supervisors and supervisees, though I’m not implying that supervisors treat supervisees like children.  With that stipulation, active noticing by team managers is critical to the well-being and productivity of all team members. Active noticing is more than praise for a job well done. It’s about noticing the details: Does the employee have the knowledge they need? How much effort are employees expending; are they overworked? Do they need help from others? Noticing these details and discussing them with the employee strengthens the working relationship.

For example, when an employee works especially hard to meet a deadline and you say, “Joe, I know there’s a lot of pressure to get this done on time and that you’re feeling it. Let’s meet at 2:00 to see if there’s a way to ease the pressure.” Even if it’s obvious to everyone that Joe is working hard, stating the obvious and showing willingness to help makes a difference, even if you and Joe decide that there really isn’t anything else that can lighten his load.

When employees experience your active noticing, their sense of well being and loyalty increase. It makes for happier, more engaged and, therefore, productive employees. A win-win situation and formula for success.


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