Are you a fan of routine? I am. It brings order to my life, simplifies my thought process in carrying out daily tasks and creates efficiencies. Wow – order, simplicity and efficiency – all good!

Except … when it’s not. If you are a lover of routine, I think it’s easy to transition into “robot mode.” By that, I mean, you begin to go through your day by going through the motions vs. tuning in to what is going on around you and adjusting as needed.

Closeup Frontal Portrait Of Vintage Robot AndroidI’m privileged to work with many bright, competent professionals and have noticed that the more competent we become, we may become complacent and operate on auto-pilot. That auto-pilot approach results in sticking with our standard methods and thought processes, expecting to get the same great results we’ve gotten in the past. However, without looking up to notice what may be different in a given situation, we can miss the mark entirely.

Here’s an analogy that struck me in the airport last week as I was waiting for my flight:

I put my phone away and look up to observe what’s happening around me. What I see is everyone else looking down at their phones or laptops. I overhear some travelers talk about the fact that they are on this same flight every week. They go to the same bar, order the same food, get the same waitperson and then head to the same gate where the same attendant manages the boarding process. “In fact, I almost boarded the wrong flight last week because they changed the gate! Can you believe it?”

While that may be an extreme situation, I’ve seen it play out in meetings as well. Someone comes in with an agenda and slide deck ready to do their dog and pony. They are so focused on following their standard protocol and checking the box on delivering their presentation, they miss all the body language – or even spoken language – that suggests their audience doesn’t understand or doesn’t buy in to what is being presented.

Conversely, I’ve witnessed colleagues give a master class in flexing and adjusting to their audience, while still delivering the key intended messages.

So how can you prove you’re not a robot operating on auto-pilot? Here are some tips to enable flexibility and responsiveness in the moment:

  • Prepare and anticipate – Those who are the best at adjusting their presentation or approach in working with others are consistently well prepared. They have deep content knowledge and think through what potential responses or questions others may have so when someone interjects a comment or questions and takes them off script, they are able to flex and steer the discussion in a way that acknowledges others’ concerns or perspectives. This preparation engages you in thinking through the “what if” scenarios, which prevents falling into the over-confident, complacent mindset.
  • Look up and acknowledge – This is about paying attention to what others are saying, either verbally or non-verbally. You can quickly spot if someone is or isn’t getting your message; agreeing or disagreeing with you. Then, acknowledging your observation, “Tom, you seem to have some reservations. What are you thinking?” If you are conducting a meeting via conference call, pay attention to the silence. If no one is saying anything, stop and ask people individually about their reaction.
  • Adapt and respond – If your audience is sending a signal that you need to pause, rethink or stop for discussion, then adapt and flex your agenda so that people leave the interaction feeling that they have been heard and respected by you taking time to make a side trip in the discussion in order to gain alignment. If you acknowledge they may have questions or concerns and then just plow ahead with your planned agenda/message, you gain nothing. In fact, that may be more harmful as it says, “I see you don’t agree/have concerns, but I don’t care. I’m moving forward anyway.”

Bottom line, none of us want to board the wrong plane and land in a place we didn’t intend to go because we didn’t look up. The joy in traveling is looking around and learning about the people, places and things. The same can be said for traveling through our work day. Don’t let routine become monotony. Every day is a new adventure … embrace it with eyes wide open!

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at