Your Career and You: “People Watching”


I realized today, after having done this for a dozen or so times, that, in addition to a much-needed boost to my brainpower, mall-sitting offers one unique benefit…the opportunity to observe a varied cross-section of humanity wandering back and forth on an assortment of missions.

I encourage my Communication students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of our undergrad PR courses, to take courses like “Effective Listening.” I now wish we had a course called “Effective People-Watching.”

You can learn a lot just by observing the expressions on people’s faces as they wander by. (Note: I was fascinated to receive notice of an article published in the June 16 issue of Harvard Business Review on this same topic the morning of June 20!) Some obviously have a “purpose” of some sort…dead-set on finding that perfect whatever in one of the shops. Others are best described as “clueless”…they’re here but haven’t really figured out why. They’re roving in search of a raison d’etre.

We were recently in Sarasota, FL, looking for a possible spot for retirement. We took a break and headed to a local mall for lunch. Having never been there before, we stopped to look at a store directory to see what was available.

Almost immediately, a mall security officer strolled over and asked, with a friendly smile, “Can I help you folks find something?” When we explained our quest for food, he pointed out the dining guide on the directory and then showed us in which direction each of the restaurants was located.

Now I know some of my more cynical colleagues will say “My God, Kirk…did you look that suspicious that he came over so quickly?” To which I will say with appreciation “No. This fellow simply took his ‘day job’ of mall security to another level with a ‘make guests’ experience at my mall positive by helping them solve problems.’”

That’s a big part of what we do in public relations. We help clients or employers solve problems.

So I’m sitting here, watching people as they drift back and forth and trying to decipher what their goals might be and playing with questions in my head like “Does he know where he’s going?” or “Has she misplaced her shopping companion?” and on and on.

I also remind myself that ours is an ever-increasing world of doubt and suspicion, so I’m not bouncing out of my chair every five minutes or so offering directions! I’ll leave that to the folks who (theoretically…although I rarely if ever actually see them at this mall!) are charged with that responsibility.

So what’s this all about, you ask? Simple. Pay attention to others as you go about your business and be ready to offer assistance if someone clearly (to you) seems to need it.

People-watching is entertaining…and it can also be a valuable customer- or client-service asset. Try it!


About kirkhazlett

35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience followed by more than 20 years' undergraduate and graduate college teaching experience. Community and media relations expertise, as well as a fanaticism for quality service and customer satisfaction. PR for healthcare and member services organizations ranging from Blood Bank of Hawaii to Medical Area Service Corporation to Boston Harborfest. Consulting services for Manila and Singapore Red Cross.
This entry was posted in Communication, Curry College, Customer Service, Inspiration, PR, PR students, public relations, Undergraduate Communication and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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