If experience is the greatest teacher, and hindsight is 20/20, then what can be said of observation?

Observation is defined as: 1 a: an act or instance of observing a custom, rule, or law b: observance 2 a: an act of recognizing and noting a fact or occurrence often involving measurement with instruments b: a record or description so obtained 3: a judgment on or inference from what one has observed.

No matter which definition one may choose, employing the power of observation is a choice.

What derails us in this decision making process? The fact that we are often so preoccupied with how we are being perceived that we don't - or can't - observe others with the deliberate focus that will provide us with valuable information and insight into a person's character, values, and motives.

By being self-absorbed we miss blatant and random clues that reveal the truth. Egocentricity also mutes intuitive ("gut") feelings that would other wise be heard, but unfortunately get ignored.

Only when we overcome our urge to be understood and accepted, can we fully engage in the process of understanding and accepting. People tell us what they want us to know, not what we need to know about them. The power of observation cuts through smoke screens and delivers clarity.

To activate your powers of observation, two things are required. First, you must shut-up. That's right, stop talking - both to yourself (in your mind) and to others. When your mouth is closed, your ears and eyes magically open wider.

The second step is to gather verbal and non-verbal information without thinking about it. This is easier said than done, but can be mastered with practice.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell refers to this process in his book Blink as "thin-slicing."

Thin-slicing calls upon the use of limited information to come to conclusions. He says that by thinking without thinking (too much), sizing up situations and determining how we feel about someone or something based not on voluminous new information, but rather on our accumulated experiences, is a good thing.

Both "thin-slicing" and using the power of observation, are concerned with the challenge of identifying and focusing on only the most significant information.

Gladwell was quoted in an interview as saying: "We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it," he writes. "And what do we tell our children? Haste makes waste. Look before you leap. Stop and think. Don't judge a book by its cover."

The power of observation does not give you the ability to judge a book by its cover; however, it does give you a very strong indication as to what the book is about.

Through the observation of people and their surroundings, you will be able to pick up on key messages about who they are, what they think, what they value, and how they really feel, all without you ever having to ask a question - if you pay attention to the clues and the cues.

How does your boss dress? Meticulously? Or slovenly? Studies reveal that there is a direct correlation between how business owners dress and the way they run their companies. A boss who dresses meticulously is more likely to be organized and pay greater attention to the details of running their business. A boss who is sloven in their appearance is more likely to overlook details and lack vision for the future of the company.

Does your new love interest sit back in his chair while you are talking? Or does he lean forward? Leaning forward means he's drawn into the conversation; leaning back means he's withdrawn and disinterested. Does your boyfriend listen to you with his arms closed? He's sending a clue that he is closed off to what you are saying and is not receptive. Crossed arms also convey protection when a person feels they are under attack and feel the need to take a defensive stance.

These are just some of the non-verbal clues that provide us with honest information during our interactions with others, but the power of observation is not limited to real-time involvement with people. It happens most, and perhaps best, when the person you are observing isn't aware of it or is not even present.

What would someone know about you just by visiting your house when you are not there? What does your office reveal about your personality and work habits? What does the interior of your car say about how you live your life?

An interesting article entitled A Room With a Cue: Personality Judgments Based on Offices and Bedrooms by Samuel D. Gosling and Sei Jin Ko of the University of Texas at Austin examines how people spend many of their waking hours in their personal living and work environments.

They found that everything from the choice of colors, patterns, motifs, and de´cor reveal not only personal taste and aesthetics, but self-directed identity claims intended to reinforce self-views which intentionally communicate attitudes and values to others. These statements might be sincere and intended to convey truthful messages about what the individual is really like, but they may also be strategic, even deceptive statements intended to portray the individual in a certain light.

Their research reveals that personal environments, such as offices and bedrooms, are good receptacles of such interior behavioral residue (Webb, Campbell, Schwartz, & Sechrest, 1966) where individuals spend a great deal of time, and certain behaviors are performed repeatedly in these environments.

The term behavioral residue to refer to the physical traces of activities conducted in one's environment. Although most cues will reflect past behaviors, there may also be some clues to anticipated behaviors; for example, an unopened bottle of wine and a set of beanbag chairs arranged in a circle on the floor may indicate a social occupant who is planning to entertain guests.

So in other words, your office space communicates volumes about you, so does the condition in which you keep the interior of your car - as well as the items you keep in it. These are all indicators of who you are, what you do (have done or will be doing), and how you live.

With consistent practice you will soon learn that it's not what people say, but what their non-verbal messages communicate to you through the power of observation that truly matter.

Author's Bio: 

Gian Fiero is a speaker and author who lectures throughout the country.