Question: I’ve heard the term “reading people” and I think I know what it is but I’m not sure how to do it. Do you have any tips on how to go about doing this?
Answer: Learning how to read people is a critical skill for everyone. It doesn’t matter if it’s the business world, government, academia or any other walk of life, understanding the reactions of others will help us improve our relationships – guaranteed.
The first step toward learning how to read people is to push ourselves out of the picture. All of our focus and powers of observation must be directed at the person with whom we are interacting. If we’re thinking about what we’re going to say next, or our mind is wandering, we may very well miss the subtle signals that the other person is sending. Often our desire to engage in conversation may also cause us to be oblivious to how the other person is really feeling.
I have a theory that successful poker players may be more skilled at reading their opponents than utilizing whatever strategy they may be deploying. Start with the use of our auditory senses. How articulate is the other person? What is his/her cadence like? Are the conversational pauses appropriate in duration? Are there increases in the voice pitch? The manner in which a person speaks reveals whether he or she is nervous, happy, sad, lying and a host of other emotions.
What visual cues do we see? Can the other person maintain eye contact? Is the person slouching or sitting or standing in an erect manner? How genuine is his or her smile? Does this person fidget or shake a foot? Some people play with their ear lobes or hide their mouths behind their hands. What kind of hand gestures do we see?
Reading people requires that we finely tune our powers of observation. Think about how well we really pay attention. What color are the other person’s eyes? Which side does he or she part their hair? How was this person attired? Was this person wearing rings, earrings or other jewelry? If you are like me, you aren’t as keenly aware of the other person so as to notice these details. This is something I’ve been working on lately and I can tell you that it has helped me pay closer attention to all aspects of whomever I am interacting.
Ultimately the objective in reading people is not to manipulate them but to make a connection. When a connection is made a relationship can be built. And I would much rather build a strong and lasting relationship with someone than use my ability to read them for purposes of gaining an advantage of some sort. If someone is in distress, I want to empathize with them. If someone is in a euphoric state, I want to celebrate with them. If someone is anxious, I want to help calm them. Above all, I want to support them and can do this if I understand them.
We can become better leaders, better colleagues, better acquaintance or better friends when we look below the surface and understand how another person is feeling. Reading people for this purpose is truly a noble calling.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.