What happens when you think no one’s watching


Last week I caught up with three friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen for months. It was great: we chatted, laughed, workshopped ideas, and gave potted histories of our businesses the past few months. Then two of us shared something in common: the biggest contracts we’ve both had this year came out of the blue.

“It’s nothing to do with anything I’ve been putting out there,” my friend said. Not quite. I contend that it is to do with everything we’ve been putting out there, so I reframed it a bit:

“It happened as a result of being watched when we thought no one was watching.”

Much of what I do is about communicating with volition: carefully putting our words out there so they reach the right people, at the right time, for the right message. And yes: this is important. But it’s not the only important thing.

I look back to when I first studied communication in high school and laugh because a) they’re still teaching the same thing, and b) it is so inadequate. The theory that communication is verbal/nonverbal and words/body language, barely scratches the surface.

Everything we do is a type of communication, because people are constantly reading our actions for meaning (we read our own actions too – but that’s a subject for another time). Actions carry weight – and consequences. That’s why it’s important to act in a way that genuinely conveys to the world what you are really all about.

Here are five of the most common things people are watching in you.

How you treat others – particularly people on the lower “power rungs”. A friend once told me that if her date was rude, or did not acknowledge, waiting staff at a restaurant, she wouldn’t see him a second time. Good call: people who do not treat less-powerful people well are demonstrating a range of things, most notably immature self-interest in relationships. By treating all people equally, you communicate a whole other rage of things, most notably maturity in relationships.

Manners – Basic good manners are becoming increasingly rare – and powerful. They are not about upholding antiquated customs, but about being considerate. As Brendan Fraser’s very cute character in Blast From The Past says, “Manners are a way of showing other people we care about them”.

Non-business communication – Thanks to social media, our communications now have vast, worldwide spread, even if you think no one is noticing what you put out there. Is what you share congruent with who you are and what you believe?

Your tone of voice – Not many people believe tone is important… until you show them how difficult it is to be sarcastic without it! If you want to be understood, listened to, and followed, it’s vital that your tone match your intentions.

Your looks – Steady on, I don’t mean aspects of your looks you can’t control, otherwise we fall into the big dangerous pit of fat-people-are-jolly and blonde-women-are-stupid stereotypes, and stereotypes always bring communication to a screeching halt. I’m talking about what you can control. The face you washed or didn’t, the shirt you ironed or didn’t, the choice of thongs or shoes: what do they communicate to the world?

Our actions are what people watch when we’re not “on”. For many people – who would be our clients or customers, or even friends and lovers – how you behave when you’re not on is the only thing to watch. Make yourself worth watching, and they won’t switch off.


Photo credit: © bst2012 via DepositPhotos