Why we need to be watched

A few years ago, I started working with a new client who was frustrated about progress in her business.

“I am doing all of these activities! Blogging, attending networking events, tweaking my opt-ins on my website, and posting on social media. I am still not making any money!”

So I asked her for the URL of her website.

I pulled it up, and saw that there was no “Services” or “Work with Us” page.

There was just a bunch of copy, and a contact page.

“So,” I said, “Do you think that one of the reasons why you aren’t making money in your business is because you don’t actually have anything for sale?”

She paused for a long time. Then burst out laughing.

“Oh my god, you are right!,” she said. “I figured since I had talked about being a coach all over my site that people would just reach out to me if they were interested in learning more.”

To which I replied “Let’s make it easier for them. Starting with offering a particular service or coaching package.”

We dug into that work, and in the following months, she started getting new clients and closing sales.

I know what you are thinking

How obvious is that? Of course you need to have something for sale in order to make money in your business, right?

Not so fast.

How often have you said you wanted to get back in shape, and were shocked when it didn’t happen, even though you spent your evenings watching Netflix instead of going to the gym? (Or, as my friend Betsy Rapoport says, “That People Magazine will not read itself!”)

Have you wanted to have a better relationship with your kids, but continue to keep one eye on your phone or laptop when they come up and want to engage with you?

Have you wanted to delegate work to your team so you are not so overwhelmed, but then find that it is “easier and quicker” to just do it yourself?

We get too close to our own patterns

I work with a lot of smart people, inside and outside of organizations. Even the most brilliant in their field of expertise get stuck in problems they solve every day for their clients.

A branding consultant gets stuck on defining his own brand.

A manager of innovation gets stuck with the same, boring meeting format.

A relationship coach gets stuck managing a difficult relationship.

We are so close to our own patterns that we miss the most obvious things.

I am convinced there must be some brain science to back this up (I must have a few brain scientists in my circle — any insight?).

Enter the compassionate observer

When you are a compassionate observer, you simply observe and evaluate a situation without judgement or emotional stakes.

As an accountant, you could note “I see you have not filed taxes in 3 years. I also see that with no filing system, accounting system or online banking, the process of gathering this information might be difficult and overwhelming.”

As a consultant, you could observe a leadership team meeting and note “You mentioned that you don’t get any feedback in meetings from your team members. I observed that you ask a question, and when there is not an immediate response (less than 5 seconds), you move on and continue talking. You also always sit at the head of the table and hold the whiteboard pen.”

As a coach, you could observe “When you described the things that are getting in the way of your success, you used the term ‘they are keeping me from doing this” five times. Say more about who “they” are, and what specifically they are doing to get in your way.”

When you are in the role of compassionate observer, you step back in the role of a watcher, and notice words, behavior patterns, system gaps, body language or physical limitations that are getting in the way of desired outcomes.

This role is incredibly helpful when you are a coach, consultant or professional services provider.

It is also helpful in your personal life.

Just last night, my 9-year old daughter Rosie said “Mom, when you are busy with work, you always say you can’t wait to hang out with me. You are done with work, and I want to hang out. You are sitting here on your bed watching The Voice. Let’s go do yoga together.”

What was I supposed to say to that?

I went downstairs and did yoga with her. I immediately felt better, and noticed how much she appreciated the time together.

As soon as you veer into the lane of judgement or emotion, “Why are you so lazy? You are such a terrible manager!,” “Who doesn’t file their taxes?!?”, “You are a terrible mom!,” you cease to be helpful, and are likely to reinforce the bad habit instead of shift it.

Watch yourself

When I heard Jim Collins speak at a Fast Company conference here in Phoenix in 2000, he shared the story of his own career journey, where he named a notebook “A Bug Called Jim” and observed his behavior for 15 years as a scientist would observe a bug.

He noted things like “Jim gets very distracted in long meetings. Jim does not like long meetings.” and “Jim lights up when he starts to teach.”

I often share this story with clients who are so ingrained in their habits and patterns that they do not notice what are obvious things to my watcher eyes.

You can learn to take the role of compassionate observer in your own life.

If it is too hard, engage someone from the outside.

We can’t change what we can’t see.

Reader Interactions


  1. Richard Harvey says

    I just finished an eight-session mindful self-compassion course put on by Insight LA. I love it that you integrate this work into our daily practice of work. I like the bug idea too. I can see how this will help your communities connect with their “now” with a sense of equanimity. I know in my daily life, which would be hard to separate from my lifework, these tools have been incredibly healing. For more specific ideas and inspirations I recommend Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself and The Mindful Path to Self- Compassion by Christoper K. Germer.

  2. Jen says

    Observation is a wonderful tool. As a singer, speaker, and performer and now a coach, I sometimes have to remind myself what simple observation feels like, without the need to immediately tweak, change, improve, or otherwise fiddle with it.
    It’s a different type of ‘listening’ and one worth exploring in daily interactions, but also with your own, quiet self.

  3. Mary Lou Green says

    Thanks for this insightful post, Pamela. Your examples made me nod and smile because they brought home how easy it is for us to see what might work better for someone else’s performance while missing what we could do to improve ourselves.

    I think I’m going to wear a rubber band and snap it every time I practice being a compassionate observer. Hopefully the physical awareness of snapping the band coupled with my observations will create a better awareness of what I’m doing and how I might think and act differently.

    I really like the journal idea, too, and plan to bug myself!

  4. Rachel DB says

    I love the notebook observer idea and am starting right away.
    “Rachel loves ideas that require fresh notebooks.”

    For the first time ever I want to email a blog post to a friend… what’s the easiest way for me to do that? Is there a button here I am not seeing?


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