How Situational Awareness Can Help You Avoid CatastropheBy Alyssa Gregory
Situational awareness is your perception and comprehension of the environment around you. While situational awareness is vital in high-risk situations such as military operations, medical emergencies and everyday dangerous environments, it is also important when it comes to making good decisions, even when the decisions you need to make are not life-threatening or dangerous.
If you can’t fully understand environmental factors that can impact your decisions and translate that knowledge into an understanding of the consequences, you’re only looking at half of the picture. Let’s illustrate this with a simple example:
You got an email from your hosting company that you need to resubmit your credit card information. You’ve done this before with this company, so you quickly click through and plug in your credit card details.
Because you’re in a hurry and because you feel comfortable with this company, you don’t notice that you aren’t actually submitting your information through a secure connection. In fact, you’re not even submitting your credit card number to the actual hosting company. The click-through brought you to a scam site that might look like the hosting company, but it is not. You have officially become the victim of a phishing scam.
Not so good, right? Situational awareness can help you avoid this kind of mistake in a few ways.
You are forced to let go of assumptions and reject complacency.
Life teaches us to make assumptions to save time and reduce the output necessary to achieve an end. But when this happens, we become complacent and prone to overlooking the obvious and making mistakes. Being situationally aware causes you to start every process with a clean slate, taking in the environment for what it is and not what you expect it to be.
It’s not only about “seeing,” but observing.
Situational awareness means that you not only see things around you, but you think about them and attempt to understand them in relation to the decisions you need to make and what consequences it will bring about. You need to look AND process in order to gain clarity about the environment you’re in and how your decisions will fit into that environment.
There are no shortcuts.
For many of us, being situationally aware boils down to ditching the workarounds we’ve created to save us time. Think about the example above. In that situation, if you had spent an extra second or two to check the header of your email to see where the message originated, verified the URL of the click-through, or manually typed in the hosting company’s domain instead of clicking, you could have avoided the problem entirely.
But…situational awareness can be dangerous, too.
The danger here is that situational awareness can make you hyper-vigilant to the point where you spend too much time making sure you’re doing the right thing, then second-guessing every decision you make. Situational awareness can go categorically wrong if it’s not balanced with reality and priority. You need to be able to choose the highest priorities — the highest “risk” situations — then apply your situational awareness process sparingly.
What’s your take on situational awareness? Do you think being more aware of your environment would help you avoid mistakes, or do you think it’s unrealistic for you to adopt this kind of perspective?
Image credit: gerwinnie