This article by Srikumar Rao originally appeared on The Rao Institute.
Sometimes what you miss may be more important than what you observe.
If someone were to ask you whether you are good at observing what is really happening, what would your answer be?
We visited some friends we had not seen for a while, and it was a most delightful evening. There was good food and we spoke of this and that and a pleasant time was had by all.
During dinner my friend’s wife recounted the problems she was having was having with her neighbor.
He came to visit them unannounced and, before she could stop him, he traipsed into the kitchen in muddy boots, and she had to mop up after he left.
“He has such poor social graces,” she continued. When her son’s fiancé complained about her job, he had the temerity to ask how much she was making. Where did he get off being so inquisitive?
And her garden. She was so proud of the flowers she had grown. They were different varieties and the colors blended smoothly and the sharp contrasts were by design, and they were visually striking. And he made fun of her efforts.
How dare he!
Her husband wriggled uncomfortably while she narrated her tale of woe. I asked him what was wrong when we had a moment to ourselves.
“Everything she said is true,” he said despairingly. “But it is not the whole truth, and I cannot get her to see this.”
So, I probed deeper.
“He really admires what my wife has created,” explained my friend. “So, he tried to plant a vegetable garden. Nobody was more surprised than him when his tomato plants blossomed. So, he picked the reddest, ripest tomatoes and rushed to give them to my wife as a present and all she could see was his muddy boots.”
“And,” my friend continued, “When he found out what my son’s fiancé was doing and what her income expectations were, he introduced her to the managing partner of his former law firm. And they made her an offer that she accepted.
“He did make fun of her garden and that was perhaps in poor taste. But we were away on vacation when it got beastly hot, and our sprinklers broke. He noticed this and spent a couple of hours each day watering the flowers.
“Yes, he is boisterous and loud and a little indiscreet. But he has a heart of gold, and you can count on him when you need any kind of help.”
What do you notice?
Do you see that your visitor’s shirt is rumpled or that there is genuine warmth in his greeting?
Do you register that your son came late to your party or that he stole away from work to attend it and will have to go back to the office to finish up?
Quite possibly what you notice says more about you than the person you are observing.