Can You Read the Room?

I’m a big fan of making complex things very simple and getting to the core of what matters.

One of those things – when it comes to leadership soft skills – is the ability to read the room. To pay attention to the little signals that others around you put out.

When people say someone doesn’t have a good EQ, it often means that they can’t or don’t pick up on those cues. Without the ability or attention to read a room, you can often create tension rather than a positive interaction.

An Essential Like Skill

While some people may come by this ability naturally, most of us need practice to get better, and to trust our instincts through observation.

The ability to read a room – or a person – is a highly critical skill for effective interactions with people, and a life skill worth developing, at a young age.

Years ago, I first met David Marquet, author of Turn Your Ship Around, when we sat together, at the back of a conference room. I didn’t realize he was one of the main speakers until the next day – the best one, it turned out.

We talked about the importance of teaching our children skills that use their instincts, and he shared this very simple technique: After an interaction with other people, ask them what they noticed and what they learned. I’ve found that the observation is as important as a discussion to articulate and test it.

My kids and I still do this, today. It’s just become part of what we do when we’re out together, and I’m always fascinated by their perceptive responses. I now realize this exercise has resulted in their ability to read a room very well, and it serves them well.

Take a Moment

When my daughter and I were recently at a restaurant, and the waiter responded harshly to a request, instead of pushing back, I chose not to react and to let the issue settle down to see what happened next.

Interestingly, our experience dramatically turned around when the waiter returned. Perhaps, he realized he hadn’t handled himself well because he was charming and took excellent care of us – to the point where we had an amazing night.

When my daughter and I later talked about our observations, she said she could feel my frustration and was surprised I hadn’t said anything. I told her that I’ve learned – from my mother’s wise advice – not to play on a lower level and to give myself and the other person time to settle down and before I say something I’ll regret. An immediate reaction would only escalate the situation.

In a business setting, people are often so focused on the task at hand, they can forget to take a breath – to get a sense of who is there, and how they can respond to what others are communicating. Only then can they see how they need to adapt or change direction to be more effective.

The Challenge

  • In what situations could you benefit from taking a moment to read the room more or better?
  • Who around you, in work or life, do you think can benefit from learning to read – or trust what they read – more often?

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