In 1946, a group of Cornell University students engaged in a food fight in a campus dining hall. A 28-year-old professor observed the fracas with keen interest.
He didn't scold the students for their antics—and he didn't join in. Instead, he watched with curiosity.
Specifically, he noticed a spinning plate emblazoned with the university insignia as it flew across the room. He wondered why the plate's edges wobbled more intensely when its rate of spinning slowed.
A physicist, he started making cognitive connections. He questioned whether the variations between a twirling plate's spin and wobble might mimic the characteristics of atomic particles. This led him to conduct experiments and study electrons with renewed vigor.
Nearly 20 years later, the physicist—Richard Feynman—won the Nobel Prize in physics. His ability to analyze a dish flying by his head became a launching pad for his groundbreaking research.
Learn from Feynman's observant style. Just because everyone engages in the same activity doesn't mean you must follow in their footsteps. Detach yourself and activate your senses.
Notice the details that others miss. In a staff meeting, for instance, resist the urge to speak up at every opportunity. Withhold your comments and invest more time studying the group dynamic and listening to others. Wait to talk until you've heard divergent points and evaluated the group's most pressing arguments.
When you coach employees to improve their performance, take a holistic view. Don't just focus on what they say and how they respond to others. Like Feynman, dig deeper. Evaluate their body language and facial expressions to confirm that their nonverbal cues enhance rather than detract from their spoken messages.
When you're brainstorming or negotiating with a group of employees, don't just lock eyes with the most outspoken members of the team. Even as you direct comments to one or two of them, glance at the others to see how they're responding. You may realize that they're bored or resistant—and that can help you redirect your message so that they buy into your proposal.