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