How being a silent ‘observer’​ is beneficial in communication

by Shweta Ramkumar

Social events can be an intimidating and awkward experience for almost all of us. This is particularly intense if you aren’t a naturally outgoing person, feel shy around people you’re meeting for the first time, don’t know what to converse about when you’re trying to find your place in long-established social circles with a history and you’re faced with language or cultural barriers. I have experienced almost all of these scenarios from time to time, and though I have come leaps and bounds with my social skills over the years to the point where I can now strike a conversation with a total stranger about anything and everything under the sun, there are instances where I feel I cannot contribute much in social situations. This happened last month at a New Year’s Eve party I had attended with my partner at his childhood friend’s place. Though I knew most of the people who had attended, most of them had been friends for decades and stuck to their conversations about people in their inner social network, reminiscing old times and what they had been doing with their lives since their school days. I could’ve felt upset and offended for them not making an effort to include me in their conversations (I rarely experience that anyway) but I used the opportunity of non- participation to my advantage and became a silent observer or commonly known as ‘people-watcher’ in that situation. I’d like to highlight in this article on how beneficial this skill can be in all facets of life where communication and connection with fellow humans are concerned.

As a kid, I was always shy, reserved, withdrawn and socially awkward. Being an only child and not getting sufficient opportunities to socialise and make friends with people outside my school hours and during school holidays didn’t help build my social skills either. Whenever I was dragged along to a family or work event with my parents, I often felt out of place but not isolated or disconnected. I used the experience to take mental notes on how people interact and connect with one another at gatherings. I noticed their tone of voice, posture, body language, choice of words, pace of talking (major problem amongst Indians who tend to talk too fast) and their facial expressions. I had the mental capacity to evaluate key characteristics of people I was observing during these occasions and when I verified them with my parents, to my surprise, my judgement was rarely incorrect. As I came out of my shell and became more outgoing and sociable with time, this ‘gift’ of mine never changed. I wouldn’t say I transformed from a total introvert to extrovert with time (I hate those labels that put us into a box and make room for misjudgement) but I could swing to either extreme depending on the situation and circumstance I find myself in. When I applied the same observation skills at the New Year’s eve party, I was able to get brief insights into the attendees psychological makeup, any past traumas that may have led to them saying or doing things they did, limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging thought patterns in them. When I checked with my partner, he confirmed that I was spot on about the people I had observed. This became second nature for me when I traveled solo around Europe and Asia, where dining and sightseeing alone exposed me to the cultural nuances and ways in which people in different cultures connect and communicate.

I was able to apply this power of observation when working in schools as a teacher to figure out classroom dynamics, supporting students and guiding them through the non-academic side of schooling, diversifying my teaching strategies and relatability with students who work one-on-one with me, supporting and building teams in various workplaces and building / participating in the various communities I am a part of. I wouldn’t call myself a mind reader but my initial interactions with people I meet for the first time either socially or professionally tend to involve asking them open ended questions to gather information about their background and getting a glimpse of their map of the world. Not only does the process satiate my curiosity and appetite for human psychology, I get a better understanding of how to communicate effectively with them in order to build better trust, credibility, connection and intimacy in my relationships with them. It has also helped me structure groups in teaching scenarios and facilitate them in order for them to work together and collaborate well. On a personal and social level, doing this enabled me to filter out people I would want and not want in my social circle, what topics to avoid around certain people, how to keep different people at arm’s length and the type of boundaries that needed to be enforced so that my well-being and mental health wasn’t being jeopardised by them.

Hopefully my experiences above have taught you not to confine yourself to the labels of “introvert”, “extrovert” or “ambivert” and made you realise that there is nothing wrong or weird about you not being 100% outgoing or extroverted. Being a ‘wallflower’ and Observing other humans interacting is a brilliant gift and can be applied to all facets of your professional, personal and social life.

Hi, I'm Shweta

I coach non-native English speaking healthcare professionals how to advance in their career and build better relationships with their patients and colleagues by expressing themselves more articulately and confidently in the English language.

I work closely with healthcare professionals who work with patients regularly. I help them improve their communication skills when interacting with patients and colleagues, teach them how to show up authentically, assertively and articulately in their field of work in order for them to ultimately gain credibility, validation and respect.

If you work in a clinical role in the healthcare industry and would like to learn more about how to better connect and communicate openly with your clients / patients, book a complimentary 30 minute discovery call with me to see how I can best support you.

Shweta Ramkumar - English Language Confidence Coach

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