Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 10, 2014

What’s Your Observational Intelligence Quotient?

This article on the Blood-Red Pencil brought to my attention the idea of observational intelligence (OQ). We all know that most writers are pretty observant people, but did you know that there are two types (and a continuum in between)? An “innie” focuses more on the interior direction, and the “outie” focuses more on external observations. Neither is “bad” or “wrong,” but if we know which we are, we can work on strengthening our observational skills.

I took the OQ quiz confident that I would be a solid “innie.” It’s no secret that I am an introvert and prone to introspection. So my score—20—shocked me. It placed me dead in the center of the continuum. So I examined my answers to see how I had gotten that score.

I found that I had rated several of the major external observational factors quite high, while others didn’t register at all. How could that be? Then the pattern became clear.

My anxiety disorder had tipped the scale.

The anxiety disorder makes me hyper-aware of certain things, such as:

  • Where are the exits
  • What is the mood of people around me
  • Hearing even soft sounds while immersed in something else

In other words, I am highly observant of anything that will help keep me safe, help me avoid dangerous situations, and allow me to flee if needed.

Other external factors, not so much. I am rarely aware of:

  • What people are wearing
  • The color of walls in a room
  • If something subtle has changed in the room since last time I was there

So the good news is that I am more observant than I thought. And I could work to become even more observant of those factors I rarely notice now, which could improve my writing.

I think, though, I would have to have a limited observational improvement. As with most anxiety-disordered people, sensory overload happens easily for me. And when I get overloaded, I shut down and stop interacting. I feel like I’m not really there, as if I’m watching everything from outside my body. It is an uncomfortable and frustrating feeling. So while I would like to up my OQ, I think I would only “engage” the new skills at selective times and places, when I am not already feeling overwhelmed.

What’s your OQ?

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Responses

  1. Mine was a 22, and I can relate to the need to pay attention more. First thing I notice is the colors of the walls, but it can be hard to guess someone’s mood especially if they cover it up with a smile. By the by, I was surprised that I got the 22. ~ Barbara of the Balloons

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