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Situational Awareness

Life in General, The Workplace

I have been thinking about the world around me.

Or rather, I should say that I have been thinking about how many people are unaware of the world around them.

OK, it started with trying to get into a left turn lane in time to make the the cycle on the light to make my turn.  The person in front of me was in no rush since the light ahead was red.  I got to wondering if they would have gone a little faster than 10 mph below the speed limit if they knew that they were having a negative impact on me.  I started wondering if they knew that I was there.  I know that I could easily be accused of just being impatient, of being in too much of a rush, but that is really not the point.  If I see someone trying to maneuver around me, I try to help them out, and I can do that only if I know that they are there.  So no, this is not a rant about “bad” drivers.

In my pilot training, I was taught to keep my head on a swivel, to always be looking around me for other traffic and a place to land in an emergency.  At an untowered airport, we all report where we are, and we all keep track, both visually and mentally, where the traffic is and where it is going (or supposed to go).  The other pilots with whom I have flown do this as well and they do it when they drive, too.  Right hand mirror, right side, front, rear view mirror, front, left hand mirror, left side, front–a regular pattern.  I drove next to friend for over a mile before she knew that I was there–looking straight ahead the whole time, she never turned to see what was going on in the rest of her world.

In our day to day worlds, do we know what is going on around us?  How good are we at picking up the nuances of conversations and situations?

In the workplace, do we understand what happened to the work before it got to us and do we understand what happens to it once we are done and pass it on?  That too is a form of situational awareness.  If the answers are “No”, how does that impact our ability to do our jobs well?

As managers, do we understand what our subordinates are doing and what outside factors are impacting their performance?  How can we mentor, manage, and lead if we don’t even see the day to day obstacles that our staffs face?  How do we make a strategic plan without knowing marketing’s input about forecasted sales, or manufacturing’s assessment of the current technology, or finance’s take on cash flows?  As an example,  I was once asked to submit my work goals for the coming year which were supposed to be in support of my manager’s goals, but he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) tell me what his goals were.  Not having situational awareness is sometimes the same as “working in a vacuum”.

When we deal with friends and family, we have the same situation.  Something as simple as knowing when someone is in a bad mood and that it might not be the time to bring up a sensitive subject is a case of situational awareness.  If we meet a lawyer, perhaps the lawyer jokes should be put on hold for a while.  I would bet many of us have missed these points at one time or the other.

This really is very simple.  Look around you, right, front, left, rear.  See what is going on and have the picture in your head. Encourage the people around to do the same.  That said, having the situational awareness is one thing, analyzing the situation is something else, something for another day.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Rachyl  •  Jan 5, 2010 @7:56 am

    This is a great post with which to start off the new year. I agree with you, so many people are completely unaware of their surroundings. It’s sad that people go through life mindlessly, not paying attention. They miss out on so much – not even the little annoying things like blocking entrance to a turn lane, but the little beautiful things like sunrises and flowers.

    People are always distracted, always thinking of something else. As Yoda said, “Never his mind on where he was! What he was doing!” We would all benefit by cultivating mindfulness in everything we do.

  2. Sue  •  Jan 5, 2010 @10:11 am

    Very well stated…and I agree with Rachyl that this is a wonderful post to start the New Year off!

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