3 Ways to be the Fly on the Wall

January 14, 2013

If you ever get the chance to be a fly on the wall, take advantage of it.

The phrase “fly on the wall” originated in the 1920s. The most we know about the first occurrence of the phrase is that it appeared in a 1921 article in the Oakland Tribune. The full sentence was: “I’d just love to be a fly on the wall when the Right Man comes along.”

Wouldn’t it be nice? When X happens, if only I could see it, without being seen. 

In life, and in any organization, there are times of great importance.

Often these times will involve a strategic meeting or conversation of some sort. If you happen to get invited to observe one of these meetings, or find yourself amidst the conversation, take advantage of it.

Here’s how:

1. Don’t get greedy. Know your place, and be the fly on the wall. Don’t be the fly at the head seat. Don’t be the fly at the front of the buffet line. Don’t be the fly that lands in the middle of the conversation. Those flies get swatted.

2. Wait for the invitation. If you are invited: speak honestly, speak clearly, be engaged but also understandable and concise. Try not to ramble, and do not look for your moment of glory. Flies are not glorious.

3. Learn, take notes, and observe verbal and non-verbal communication. It’s a goldmine of a gift, so dig from it everything you can. A lot of leadership is caught, not taught.

I’ve had the opportunity to be such a fly several times and I am very thankful for what I gained from those experiences. Some have been humbling, as I put my foot in my mouth, and others have been life-changing, as I see admirable leaders willing to invest in others. 

Also, if you ever become the one inviting the flies, remember your experience as the fly. Do what you can to positively influence those who are there to will learn and observe.