Coworking Superpower #2

The power of intuition and reading people.
Ryan Chatterton
November 13, 2017
5 min read
Coworking Superpowers
Makers | Seattle

Getting the read of the room is an invaluable coworking skill. It sets mediocre space managers apart from phenomenal ones. In this article I outline how the superpower works and how you can get better at it.

I used to work in the service industry in the US. I waited tables for three years and, briefly, was a cook at a fancy restaurant. You learn many vital skills in the restaurant industry, such as time and expectation management. However, there’s one skill that, when applied to managing a coworking space, is a bona fide superpower. And that is the ability to read people.

At a glance, a waiter’s job is pretty simple. They go to tables, take orders, put the orders in the computer, deliver the food, and charge the guest. Sounds pretty straightforward, but as anybody who’s worked in a high-end restaurant knows, being a waiter is a whole lot more than that. Especially in the US, where waiters work for tips, assessing and reacting to the feelings and moods of guests is fundamental, and it’s a lot more complicated than writing down an order or cleaning tables.

Because the experience of the guest is their primary concern, the waiter must be able to instantly get a read of the room, each table, and each person at each table. They’ll look for subtle cues that denote an action needs to be taken.

A guest looking around the room might be admiring the design of the restaurant, but this behavior could also mean they want to order a martini. A guest with a mostly full plate of food and silverware at rest on the table might be giving their stomach a little break, but they could also be signaling that something is wrong with their meal. An empty glass of water is a clue that either the guest is dehydrated and soaking up water like a sponge or that the table has been neglected for some time. There are dozens of examples like these.

Just observing is one thing. The next level is in interpreting. And here begins the superpower of intuition and reading people. Let’s take a look at how this plays out in a coworking space.

Because of my time in the restaurant industry, I’m pretty good at being able to read the mood of people at an event. Are they bored? Offended? Exuberant? Drunk? I notice when the person working in the open space is annoyed by the loudly gossiping front desk staff. I see the discomfort when one member is a little too chatty with another, as the latter looks around for an exit route.

Some of this may sound obvious, but I promise you it’s not. I’ve seen coworking managers completely ignore the loudly gossiping front desk staff as if it were no big deal. In a similar situation, I’ve watched event team members talking and laughing with a glass of wine in hand while a speaker was in the middle of a presentation. I’ve witnessed community managers bail on an unsuspecting member letting them fall prey to an overly talkative and distasteful blabbermouth.

These memories make me cringe. And for me, as well as many successful coworking founders, these things are far from acceptable.

The benefits of this superpower.

It might seem like reading our members’ minds isn’t necessary since members always tell us what they’re thinking before they decide to cancel their membership, giving us ample time to respond to their concerns. Wait, hang on a minute... members almost never do that!

The truth is, members often don’t give us the feedback we need to make changes until it’s too late. And sometimes, they never give us feedback at all.

So the benefits of this superpower should be obvious. If you can spot a potential problem before it becomes a Problem, then you can save yourself a lot of time, headaches, and you can prevent your hard-earned members from leaving.

Here are just a few of the problems you can stop before they get out of control:

  • You notice a particular member seems to make other members uncomfortable when he begins talking to them. Upon further investigation, you find out that he makes some rather inappropriate jokes and comments. Using this info, you remind him of your policy against such things and that he needs to correct course if he wants to stick around. You also send out a reminder to the community about the policy. The choice to stay is his, but you’ve prevented other members from leaving because of his behavior, and possibly a catastrophic harassment situation.
  • You’ve noticed a couple of members glancing daggers over at the front desk in recent days. You’ve also caught on to the problem yourself. The front desk staff talk so loudly to one another, telling stories and laughing, that they can be heard on the other side of the glass wall, which happens to be the quiet space. You inform them of the situation and that, if it persists, you’ll install a decibel meter! You’re mostly joking. Or are you?
  • A potential new member is on a tour with you. You catch them glancing around with a distant look on their face. Something is wrong. Instead of completing the tour, as usual, you find a cozy place to chat to ask them more about what they’re looking for. It turns out they’re intimidated by the space and the members. They’re not sure they’ll fit in. You change tack by asking them about their interests and introducing them to a few members who share them. Instead of you losing the sale, they sign up on the spot.

How to get good at reading people.

Most of us have the ability to read people built into our neural wiring, to lesser or greater extents. And it works pretty well for the most part. But even so, noticing and interpreting the meaning of a person’s nuanced behavior, be they subtly glancing around the room or reacting to some stimuli, can be lost on a lot of us.

What you need is experience.

But rather than recommending that you pick up a few shifts at your local cafe or restaurant, I’ll offer a few ideas on how you can hack the same useful experience. These hacks are very similar to waiting tables in that they are high-stress, time-restricted experiences where the primary goal is the positive attitude of the participants. Try these on for size:

  • Host a dinner party on a regular basis with ten or more guests. Bonus points if you cook and serve the meal, and take care of beverages and ambiance (music, etc.). You’ll begin noticing your guests emotions and needs rather quickly.
  • If you typically don’t host events, start doing so. Event managers tend to pick up the ability to read people rather quickly because so much is on the line and they know that if something goes wrong, it makes them look bad.
  • Host a movie night with a large group. Make sure it’s a movie you’ve seen before so you can spend most of your time observing how others are reacting to particular scenes. The most interesting reactions you’ll find will happen during violent or romantic scenes. In general, you’ll get the feeling that people are bored or entertained, sad or excited, at various points throughout the movie.
There’s a rule with this superpower.

As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” No superpower should be used without adhering to the rules, and for this superpower, there’s only one.

Never assume.

Some readers might feel that employing the superpower of intuition and reading people is a license to jump to conclusions about situations, but the opposite is true. What reading people allows you to do is gather more information. Information that is not commonly perceived. Therefore giving you the ability to investigate further. Notice that all of the examples earlier in this article involved an investigation or clarification step.

For example, if there’s a commotion at the back of the room during a big event, it could turn out that there’s an emergency instead of a juicy new story.

The AC might not be the only reason people don’t sit in that particular open space seat. Maybe the pizza shop next door plays loud music which can be heard through the wall in that specific spot.

What about that guy that nobody has seemed comfortable with over the last few days? He might not be harassing people. He might just need a breath mint.

By harnessing and putting this superpower to work you’ll not only prevent problems, but you'll also massively improve your members’ experience in the workspace. The added benefit when reading people is you notice more of what members like, not only the things they don’t like. You’ll notice which food gets eaten at events and therefore stock up on more of it for next time. You’ll see how members like the furniture to be arranged and whether they like the lights on during the day or to rely on the natural light pouring in through the windows.

Without a doubt, intuition and reading people are together one of the most useful superpowers a coworking manager can have. If you don’t already have it, I recommend you get practicing as quickly as possible. Your members will love you for it!

Never miss a beat!
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Ryan Chatterton

Marketing Director, founder at Coworking Insights, coworking maven, digital nomad, lover of wine & tacos.

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