The Most Important Observation Skills (With Examples)

By Jack Flynn - Mar. 24, 2021

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From solving puzzles to memorizing equations, we use our observation skills in countless situations every single day. After all, whether we’re hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, or seeing something, we’re gaining valuable information about the world around us. You wouldn’t want to eat leftover food if it smelled bad, or touch the hot flame of a gas stove.

This same logic applies to the workplace, as our powers of observation can allow us to make our tasks easier, notice important details, avoid mistakes, and more.

With that in mind, this article will address multiple reasons why observation is so important, as well as provide tips and tricks for how to improve your observation skills.

The Importance of Observation in the Workplace

Unlike other workplace skills, adept observational skills are useful in almost every field, for any level of experience, in any situation. To get an idea of how all-encompassing observational skills are, here’s a list of its benefits:

  • Communication. When you use your observational skills to gather information about your boss or coworker’s emotional state, current knowledge, ideas, or habits, you can communicate more efficiently and effectively.

    For example, if you’re working on a project and one of your team members seems angry about their failed idea, your ability to observe their emotions and behavior can help you successfully re-motivate them.

  • Adaptability. If you notice an important change in the workplace just before, or right when it starts happening, you’ll be more likely to adapt positively.

    For instance, if you were a barista refilling straws, but you started to notice a rush of customers on their lunch break, your observational skills might inform you to switch your focus to restocking lunch items, so you can more efficiently meet the demands of your current clientele.

  • Accurate research. If you’ve ever had a science class, you’d remember how important proper observations are for accurate research. Paying attention to the details of a project allows you to gather the most accurate information you need to make your project successful.

  • Safety net. While accidents happen, having adept observational skills can help prevent mistakes and other incidents in the workplace. Imagine something as simple as walking down a hallway and missing the “wet floor” sign.

  • Critical thinking. Often, being observant allows us to solve problems we wouldn’t normally have a grasp on.

    For instance, when you’re babysitting a child you notice an empty cookie jar, you might assume that the child did it. However, all it would take is observing the cookie crumbs on the dog’s mouth and bed to come to a more educated conclusion.

  • Attention to detail. For any project, task, or assignment, being observant helps you ensure that you’re thorough in your approach. Not only will you come across as a better worker, but you’ll also be producing higher quality work.

Observational Skills and Interviews

In any situation, having good observation skills during an interview can give you a valuable edge. In many cases, you can appear more focused and interested in the position, more efficiently answer questions, while also communicating successfully with a hiring manager.

For example, imagine Phil has an interview at a modern art museum, and there are several other potential candidates. Upon entering the museum, he notices a new exhibit, and instead of simply passing by, takes the time to analyze it before he’s officially called into his interview.

Then, once the interview starts, he seizes the opportunity to talk about his observation, mentioning how he loves the vision and direction the new exhibit represents. In this case, just making a simple observation gave Phil that extra edge over his competitors.

While there are countless ways small observations can make a huge difference in interview performance, just taking the time to make one or two is a valuable way to show your professionalism, confidence, and interest.

How to Avoid Inattentional Blindness

Given that observation skills are so important, why is it that we sometimes miss important details, or fail to remember valuable information? Sure, you’ll miss things when you aren’t paying attention at all, but in the workplace, that’s rarely the case.

Unfortunately, these missed observations are partially the result of how our brains naturally pay attention. Instead of missing out because we’re not paying attention at all, we often miss important details due to inattentional blindness.

Regularly, we experience this phenomenon when our brain is highly focused on one particular task or object, as we can then completely fail to notice something else we weren’t expecting that was entirely visible. The brain isn’t perfect, and when it’s bombarded with sensory information, some of that information gets lost along the way.

For example, if you were told to watch a video where you have to count the number of basketballs that make it through a basketball hoop, you might completely miss someone in a ridiculous costume walking across the screen.

In the workplace, our current task might cause us to completely miss the customer right in front of us, or overlook an important signal for a task we need to complete.

What can we do to avoid this phenomenon?

Generally speaking, the most efficient ways to cope with inattentional blindness in the workplace are:

  • Incentivizing more than just one achievement or successful task

  • Working in teams that allow for a larger pool of observers

  • Acknowledging your faults and the things you miss

While these coping mechanisms are rather simple, they can do a long way in helping you avoid inattentional blindness in the workplace.

10 Ways to Improve Your Observation Skills

Knowing how to be a better observer is an important part of what can make you more successful in interviews, and in the workplace. With that in mind, here are ten simple ways you can improve your observation skills:

  1. Take a moment to pause and look for details. As hectic as the workplace can be, taking the time to stop and examine your surroundings can be an efficient way of observing new information. Instead of noticing the more typical objects you see every day, try to look further and detect something you’ve never seen before.

  2. Ground yourself in the present moment. Though we all get lost in an occasional daydream, or can become preoccupied with everyday stressors outside of work, the more we can ground our thoughts in our present task, conversation, or situation, the more our workplace observation skills will improve.

  3. Cut out as many distractions as possible. Even if it’s tempting to glance at your phone during a slow day at work, doing so prevents you from observing important details. Therefore, simply deciding to keep distracting objects, people, or anything else out of your workplace can make a huge difference.

  4. Make specific observations. Instead of noting that you observed fish in a koi pond, take the time to make your findings more specific. Remembering that there were five orange and black dappled koi fish is a much more useful observation.

  5. Take the time to write things down. We’ve all had at least one teacher who was super anal about notetaking, and well, that teacher had a point. When you write down your observations, you’re far more likely to remember them going forward.

  6. Play memory games and solve puzzles. If you want to have some fun improving your workplace observation skills, take the time to play a memory or solve a puzzle in your free time.

    This could be as simple as a game where you have 10 seconds to memorize as many details of a picture as possible. Write down your results and record improvements.

  7. Get involved with new activities. Trying something can allow you to make new and exciting observations. In particular, you should choose an activity that engages your focus.

  8. Be willing to research and learn. The more you know about a particular topic, the more insightful your observations will be. For instance, a home inspector or exterminator will be far more likely to notice signs of a rodent infestation over a tax collector.

  9. Be self-aware and reflect. When you’re purposefully trying to improve your observation skills, being willing to reflect on your progress is an important part of making progress. Maybe you had an extremely stressful and distracting day, and being able to reflect on what happened can help you going forward.

  10. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. While reflecting on your progress can be useful, you can also improve your observation skills by directly asking others for feedback.

    For example, if a co-worker appears noticeably stressed, you can always politely and professionally ask them how they’re feeling. Doing so will give you valuable observational information going forward.

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Jack Flynn

Jack Flynn is a writer for Zippia. In his professional career he’s written over 100 research papers, articles and blog posts. Some of his most popular published works include his writing about economic terms and research into job classifications. Jack received his BS from Hampshire College.

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