How to observe like Sherlock in profession

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary character Sherlock Holmes once says to his friend Dr. Watson “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear”. Well, that statement could well be said by any mentor to a protégé or any leader to a follower as a potent reply to the question “What is the greatest secret of success”! Yes, that’s what separates high-performers & benchmark-setters from a mediocre & a passerby. They are aware of the details that others miss out upon.

Interestingly, if you ask them how they do it, more often than not, you will hear things like “Because we are right there”. Yup! People see things not because things are there but because ‘they’ are there. But how to do it? How to see what most people miss? How to unleash the power of observation in profession? How to improve listening skills? How to perform well in meetings? Well, before we delineate the answers of these questions, watch this video to get the gist of the matter…



Yes, to listen and understand something patiently and attentively, one has to quieten not only the noise outside but also the noise inside. Though we are a part of a world out there, the fact is that there is another world inside us – we are continuously a part of the narrative inside us…participant of a conversation… protagonist of a story. Although it’s ok to be so, at times it becomes an interference in being present…or immersing oneself in listening. Well, like for any behavior, the root of this point lies in neuroscience.

If we will look at our brain then we will find that at any point of time, our brain operates in one of the two major modes. First mode is called narrative circuit. This is brain’s default mode in which, along with medial prefrontal cortex, memory regions like hippocampus are involved. This is called narrative circuit because in it, we talk to ourselves by connecting our past, present and future in relation to people, events and ideas. In other words, we plan, daydream or ruminate.

Second mode is called direct-experience circuit. In it, different brain regions are involved – like insula, which is central to perceiving bodily sensations; and Anterior Cingulate Cortex, which is central to switching attention and detecting errors. This mode is called direct experience circuit because in it, you are not lost in your thought, rather you observe and experience information coming into your senses in real time, and are attuned. Interestingly, these two modes are inversely correlated. Yes, when one gets activated, the other one automatically starts getting deactivated.

That’s why, during a discussion, if you are in narrative circuit mode rather than direct-experience mode then your observation will be weaker, involvement will be shallower, the quality of points will be poor, and the probability of lapses, mistakes and reactions will be higher. Well, but to appreciate this fact, social & emotional intelligence is needed. This ‘emotional & social intelligence’ is about one’s comprehension of the design and operation of human brain, and how they influence people’s responses and decisions.

This blend of neuroscience and psychology sets the basis for developing emotional & social intelligence – the skill of managing self and connecting with others. Yes, this all-important skill of all intrapersonal & interpersonal skills can be learnt, practiced and mastered. However, it all begins with some important realizations like…“To observe better, you have to silence the inner storyteller”.


Dr. Sandeep Atre

‘Emotional & Social Intelligence’ Expert

Founder – Socialigence

Note: Socialigence ( offers self-paced video-based online course on ‘Social & Emotional Intelligence’ with content that has relevance across the globe, and delivery specifically customized according to the work-scenarios in India.