Hello everyone and welcome to episode 89, where today we talk about how to be a better observer of people.

In last week’s episode, Get Them to Say “Thank You for Asking”  I talked about the ORA principle of deepening our relationships with people – Observing – Remembering – Asking. Today we’re going to examine in more detail the first component, O – observing.

It’s about how we can understand people better by noticing the clues they give us about what they are experiencing. This is all for the purpose of deepening our relationship with the important people in our life.

Last week I tried to make the point that the ORA principle is based on the premise that you actually care. If you don’t really care, it will come across as manipulation. It’s important to be honest with yourself, to do a gut check and ask yourself, do I really care about that person and want to have a deeper relationships with them.

Or do I just want to relate someone to get something from them. Do I want to use them to meet my needs?

If the later is the case, you may as well stop this recording now and listen to one of those ubiquitous crime podcasts instead. But if you want to deepen your relationship with someone, keep listening.

The myth of Ice breaker exercises

These rarely ever work. They almost never lead to anything. And they’re often used when there is no ice to be broken. Here’s an example:

Q: “Tell the group something about yourself most people don’t know.”

A: I typically answer with one of 3 responses

  • I have two birth certificates with two different names
  • Years ago I was a panelist on a TV show
  • I once sat in front of a presidential candidate on an airplane.

People rarely ever follow-up on the answers people give, even though its purpose is to help people get to know each other better

The power of “bubbles”

The SYIS (Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills) concept. Air bubbles that rise to the top of a calm lake reveal life underneath. Look for the bubbles.

What clues are people giving off? With their words? Their actions? Where is the life? Where is the danger?

Be a detective. As in the old TV show, “Monk.” It was about a private detective with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Played by award-winning actor,Tony Shalhoub, who is from Wisconsin, by the way. He solved crimes by noticing clues others missed. He could follow the bubbles.

Three examples of observing

The ” A poem is everywhere” story from college [no transcript available]. I mentioned in episode 87 to look for emotion. What do you think people are feeling? What are they happy about? Sad about? Worried about? Look for the emotion. The poem I wrote is about the emotion I saw in the moment.

Later when I taught creative writing: field trips to the airport and the zoo. Write something about the people. It was all about exercise our curiosity muscles. Good writers are good observers of people.

More recently, a Christmas party at a friend’s house, and looking around his den.

Be tentative in your observations

To be open to the possibility you’re mistaken. Think to yourself, “I wonder if…”

Caution on body language. Misinterpreting it. Arms folded means I’m closed off to you, when it could simply mean “I’m cold.”

It’s a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice and repetition.

If you forget everything else, here’s the one thing I hope you remember from today’s episode

Our relationships deepen as we become better observers of the important people in our life. It gives us important data for relating well with them.

Here are a few ideas for how we can respond to today’s program

Ask God to help you be a better observer of people. Ask him to help you be more curious about others, not to be nosy, but to better appreciate what God is perfecting in the character of the people he created.

As I mentioned last week, being a keen observer of people is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice and repetition.

Read good literature. Poems, short stories, novels. pay close attention to character development. How do people change?

Watch good movies with a critical eye. Use the same principles of reading good literature. Look for the emotion, in the characters, and in yourself in response to the movie.

Study George Bailey the main character in It’s a Wonderful Life! Notice how is wife Mary responds to George’s anger and fear husband. Check out episode # 45 Seven Relationship Lessons from the Best Christmas Move Ever Made.

Learn from people who observe well

Lars and the Real Girl, that wonderful Ryan Gosling movie. Study the characters. Notice how everyone relates to Lars, and his bizarre behavior. One person relates to him differently than all the other characters, which eventually leads him to more healthy relationships.

This person who relates differently to Lars is a doctor. She observes things about Lars that others in the film miss. She took in data that’s revealed in the first few minutes of the movie that helped her understand Lars in ways that the other characters did not. They had the same data she had, but her keen observation skills saw the connection between that data and Lars’ behavior. Everyone else missed it. For me, observing how the doctor related with Lars, gave me a powerful insight into human behavior that has helped me in relating to people.

So observing the skills others use in relating to people, be it fictional or in real-life, is another thing we can do to apply what we’ve learned in today’s episode.

As always, another thing you could do is let me and your fellow listeners know what resonated with you about today’s episode. You can share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes. Or you can put your thoughts in an email and send them to me, john@caringforothers.org.


I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act. So that you will find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

That’s all for today. See you next week. Goodbye for now.

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