The Importance of Situational & Audience Awareness

There is something I think all of the best team members do, and I’d like to share it with you. From my experience, the best team members have situational and audience awareness.

I first heard the term “situational awareness” earlier this year, when I was working with one of the largest commercial real estate companies in Texas.  The founders of the company described their best hires as having situational awareness. Intuitively I knew what they meant, but I asked for an example. Here is the story I heard:  “I was meeting a very senior executive, whom we were very seriously considering hiring. We met after work at a bar at the Ritz Carlton and I arrived a few minute late because of traffic. I apologized, and the candidate said, ‘No worries, there are some very attractive hookers here, so I’ve had plenty to keep me busy.’”  The founder said that the candidate’s lack of situational awareness and judgment forced him to end the meeting at that moment. He said, “I literately shook his hand and said there is no need for us talk any further.”  I know this is an extreme example, but I have seen a lack of situational and audience awareness play out many times in office settings.

Here is a positive example of situational awareness. One of the best interns I have ever worked with would draft emails for me to send to clients; these emails were spot on to how I wanted to say things. When I asked her how she did this (because many of the talented employees I hired could not), she said, “I channel your voice in my head when I write for you.” This ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and head results in audience awareness — which typically leads to work products that really resonate with the intended audience.  It is also the essence of client service.

Every professional role has clients – either internal or external – and the people who are most successful in their role know how to adjust their presentation to match the particular client.  This ability to read and adjust to a situation is a key component to inspiring client trust. I have seen very smart and well intentioned candidates who could not adjust their written or oral tone to the audience because they lack situational awareness.

So, how do we evaluate this when hiring? At Wisnik, we now give junior level candidates a written exercise, where, amongst other things, they have to draft an email inviting a Partner to an event. You would be surprised how often the candidate addresses the wrong person or writes in the wrong tone. Because situational and audience awareness are such key aspects of almost every role, I encourage you to be keenly aware of these characteristics when you look for the right talent for your team.


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