Sometimes I feel like I’m on a lifelong quest to bring about better situational awareness. Generally speaking, I don’t think this is a skill that we (you know… humans) are great at. Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. (I won’t hear you when you tell me this… but that’s okay. Just pretend and tell me anyway.)
You’re in a long line to get a sandwich from your favorite sandwich shop. You’re still a few people back and have been waiting a while. Small amounts of excitement swell within you each time another customer steps up to the register to order and you get to take that tiny step forward. You’ve used your time in line wisely, studying the menu and making your choices so that you can order as quickly as possible when it’s finally your turn. But then it happens. Someone ahead of you reaches the front of the long line and decides that this is the best time to take their first look at the menu, ask many detailed questions (all of which are answered on the large menu that’s been staring down at them the entire time they were waiting) and carefully decide what they want while 20 people behind them audibly sigh in frustration. (Oh how I wish there were a policy that would send those people to the back of the line to start over again and give them time to make better choices.) It’s like they’re completely unaware of anyone else around them and how their decisions (or indecision) affect others. (Sound familiar?)
This is a perfect example of a lack of everyday, practical situational awareness. Let’s call this, “Micro-Situational Awareness.” Or mSA*. (I just invented an acronym! That’s exciting! FYI… the little “m” is because it’s “micro.” You can probably see where this is going, but if not, it’ll make sense in the next paragraph.) I’ve certainly not perfected my mSA, but I spend a great amount of time and effort trying to be more situationally aware so that I’m not constantly pissing people off. (It’s really just the considerate thing to do.) In fact, I’ve thought about this so much that I’ve decided that, as my wife and I begin the process of raising children, along with the really big things like morals and faith and personal hygiene and a healthy hatred of mustard (my wife disagrees), mSA is one of the most important things we will attempt to instill in them from the start.
Unfortunately, there’s another type of situational awareness that I’ve only recently realized I’m not so great at. (Though I’m working on it and getting better!) I’m going to call it “Macro-Situational Awareness.” Or MSA*. MSA is all about the big picture. It’s about the trends happening around you. In a less imperative example, it’s my dad starting to wear Hawaiian shirts whenever that was cool and not having the MSA to realize that it isn’t cool anymore. (And then it was again, and then it wasn’t. And then it was… but more in an ironic way, which he certainly didn’t get. Ugh… there’s no hope for that man’s fashion sense.) On a more vital level, it’s missing the warning signs and red flags popping up around you to tell you that something isn’t right.
In my life, this has manifested itself in a number of ways. It’s the organization with a mission and vision I’m so excited about that I don’t notice when sales begin to dwindle or other employees are leaving left and right. It’s the partnership where I’m so passionate about what we’ve set out to do that I’m 20 miles into the marathon before I look back and notice that my partner hasn’t even stepped up to the starting line. It’s the new friendship or romantic relationship that I’m so enamored by that I never notice that the other person may not be as “in” as I am. My awareness in these situations is usually clouded by my tendencies toward idealism. (I think most people who end up over-committed to things have a tendency toward idealism and don’t enjoy facing the sometimes-harsh realities and limitations of life.) The problem, of course, is that this always leads to severe letdown and disappointment.
How do we avoid this? By actively developing our MSA the same way we all should be actively developing our mSA! (And we should! We really, really should.) Look for the warning signs. The rest of the entries in this collection can all serve as warning signs we can learn to watch for, but the simplest one is to look toward the trends in the behavior of the people around us, set aside our rose-colored glasses of idealism and ask the right questions. Here are a few to get you started:
- Is there a high rate of turnover in your organization? If so, why is that? (Likely, leadership will have excuses prepared for this. Are they legitimate excuses or are they in denial that there’s something wrong?)
- Are sales on a downward trend? If so, why and what’s being done about it?
- In a personal relationship, are you the one always putting in the effort with little or no reciprocation? What’s that about and why are you okay with it?
Being aware of the trends happening around us can help us to avoid disappointment and hurt by making better, more informed decisions. (Just an FYI from experience… If people are leaving the organization pretty regularly, there may be a reason that’s worth looking in to!)
If, in your quest to develop your MSA, you become aware of some disturbing trends, it might be #Time2MoveOn.
* Just in case you were wondering how you would say these acronyms aloud, “mSA” would be “little M-S-A” and “MSA” would be “big M-S-A.” If you don’t like that or think it’s dumb, that’s too bad. I made them up so I get to make the rules!