Knowing how to read people can have a significant impact on just about every aspect of our lives. The technological era we’re in might have us thinking that our communication is peaking. We send countless texts and emails every day. But it’s safe to say that we are getting worse at reading people in a face to face context. We have never been more disconnected from the people we interact with. Because of that, we are missing out on a world of opportunities. 

An MIT study showed that the outcome of a negotiation can be predicted by reading or interpreting the body language of participants. Words themselves only account for an estimated 7% of communication. So when you start paying attention to other aspects of communication such as body language and tone, you start gaining advantageous ground

Why Knowing How to Read People is Important

Being able to read people can have massive benefits. It is about so much more than playing Sherlock Holmes or Patrick from The Mentalist. It is not about mind reading. It is about observing the person you are speaking to and adjusting the way you communicate with them. 

In every context of life, we deal with a myriad of personality types, and we need to recognize them to tap into their strengthsFor example, if you observe that an employee has low self-esteem or lacks self-confidence, you would adjust your tone to accommodate their insecurities in a motivational way. Being loud and boisterous won’t be a very efficient way of dealing with them. If you are dealing with an extrovert, being solemn and serious won’t be the most efficient way of getting through to them.

People have never been more disconnected from nature or each other than they are today. We hardly make eye-contact with the person handing us our coffee over the counter. The power of observation and reading people is therefore not only an essential tool for effective communication. It is a tool that promotes connection with our fellow human beings.

How to Read People 

The ability to read people has so much more to do with how to read people’s body language and non-verbal communication than words alone. Anyone has the ability to read people. They just need to know what to look for. Things like a person’s appearance, posture, physical movements, gestures, the tone of voice, facial expressions and willingness to make eye contact during conversations are all things to observe when reading people.

You don’t have to be able to know how to read people’s mind to understand the personality of the person you are speaking to. You just need to pay attention to specific details. There is a myth floating around the internet that you can read someone 55% by body language, 38% by their voice (tone, pitch, volume) and 7% from the words they say. This study was aimed at reading someone on a first impression basis. Basically, to assess whether you like or dislike someone. 

You need to consider context, personality, and the potential that someone might be trying to deceive you by manipulating the communication.

Some people are open books and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Others are harder to read. If you spend enough time honing your observational skill, you should be able to read just about anyone!

FBI Meaning

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reading people down to a T and profiling people’s personalities. They have developed skills and techniques to read peopleCriminal profilers are trained to assess every aspect of communication with people to see whether they are telling the truth. They look for patterns and abnormalities in the behavior of suspects. If you are trying to become more observant of people and want to be good at reading others, there are a couple of useful techniques used by the FBI that can guide you in the right direction.

Psychology Tricks to Read People 

You might not be able to read a person’s innermost thoughts and feelings, but chances are, by being observant, you can read their body language. A person’s eyes are also often very communicative if you know what to look for. There a few psychology tricks that can help you learn how to read people. There are a lot of self-help books on the topic. Such as Reading People by Jo Ellan Dimitrius, that delve into the details of reading people. 

Here are a few tricks or the trade to get you started:

Be Objective

You have to go at it without any prejudice or bias. There is absolutely no point in “objectively” trying to understand someone if you have already put them in a stereotype box. You need to peel away all the layers of preconception so that you can see further than a mere first impression.

Observe Non-verbal Cues

Your approach to reading people should be a combination of being guided by your emotional intelligence, intuition and observing the physical movements and behavior of a person.

People tend to lean their body towards what they like and lean away from makes them uncomfortable or angry. The same goes for the direction their toes are pointed at. If they are aiming their body and feet directly at you, it is most likely a sign that they are comfortable and open to communicating with you.

Is the person hiding their hands? Are they biting their nails or picking at their cuticles? These could be signs that the person feels nervous or anxious. This is very common in people who feel uncomfortable or under pressure.

Other signs of tension can be seen in someone’s facial expressions. Jaw clenching, teeth grinding and pursed lips might show that they are upset and are trying to hold back what they truly want to say

What is their posture telling you? It is easy to pick up on confidence (or the lack thereof) by looking at the way someone carries themselves. If they cower or slouch, it is a sign that they may have a low self-esteem. There is a clear line between a posture that exudes confidence, and the over the top swagger that goes with an inflated ego

Establish a baseline

Most people have some or other behavioral quirks. Sometimes these patterns of behavior are habitual. Such as clearing their throat, scratching their head, looking at the floor or stroking their necks. You need to read what that person’s “normal” behavior is. That is your baseline. It would be a mistake to overanalyze that someone is nervous or lying to you because you saw them bite their nails. If they are common nail biters, then this mannerism should be part of their “normal” behavior and you need to look elsewhere for signs of what is going on in their mind.

Look for Custers

Once you have established a baseline for the person you are speaking to, look for clusters of behavior that fall outside of that baseline. Is there an inconsistency between their normal behavior and their physical gestures? 

Phoneme awareness can also help point out a baseline inconsistency. A phoneme is a basic element of phonetic speech. If someone is very nervous or is lying, they may raise or lower their pitch when using certain words. They may overemphasize words as an overcompensation in order to manipulate you to believe them.

The loudest voice in the room is not always the strongest. The stronger someone’s voice is, the more likely it is that they are confident and comfortable and also being honest. Unless you are dealing with a manipulative person with a personality disorder. Psychopaths and Sociopaths are often difficult to read because people can’t see past their thick layer of charm.

Consider Context

Yes, crossed arms might be a sign that someone is closing themselves off, that they are not comfortable or happy. But have you considered that it might be cold in the room, or that there are no armrests for them to rest their arms on? Being observant requires you broaden your field of focus, and to not fixate on one tell-tale sign. 

Be Aware of Your Intuition

Trust your gut. Open yourself up to their vibe try to make sense of the feelings and emotions a person evokes in you. Natural instinct has gotten humanity pretty far, so your instinct is invaluable. It’s not about trying to see the color of their aura. It is about assessing how your body and mind react to their presence each time you meet them.

How to Read People: Bottom Line 

Reading people is not only about protecting ourselves from potential liars and frauds. The aim is not to train yourself to become a criminal profiler. The aim is to build your observation skills so that you can make sound decisions. Understanding the people we are working or interacting with can help our decision-making process a lot easier when it comes to trusting people.

Sources

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-freedom/201402/three-techniques-read-people

https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/an-fbi-agents-9-ways-to-read-people.html

https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/06/how-to-read-people-2/

https://psycentral.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/body-language-myth-7-38-55-rule-dr-gary-wood-psycholog/

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings

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