“To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.” – Rene Descartes
Ever since the first humans appeared on Earth, some 200,000 years ago, we have been dependent on one another.
We’ve looked to each other for sustenance, love, connection and protection. Our very survival is determined by our ability to identify and nurture the right relationships.
We’ve also had to be wary of getting into the wrong crowd because there’s a dark side to human nature that can inflict harm and hurt. Liars, cheaters and manipulators have always been on the prowl in their quest to fulfill their selfish and power-hungry motives.
Mentally unstable and psychologically wounded individuals can behave in reckless and unpredictable ways, which can wreak havoc in our lives, like a narcissistic boss or the friend who talked behind your back.
Because of our lack of knowledge and experience, many of us are quick to make snap judgments about others based on superficial criteria. We strive to give them the benefit of the doubt when we should really be looking below the surface to gather enough information before letting them in.
Besides scoping out the “bad guys”, the ability to read and understand people is a valuable tool that provides an insight into social cues and behaviors which will enable us to react intelligently towards situations.
We’ll be better prepared for important interactions, such as job interviews, sales pitches or dates when we’re tuned into others needs and drives.
Some people are born with stronger social instincts than others, with an internal radar that can easily detect the deeper traits and intentions. We typically see superior people-reading skills in professionals such as detectives, lawyers and FBI agents.
If you aren’t born with these sleuth-like sensibilities when it comes to decoding behavior, do not fret! There was a time when I too lacked people-reading finesse, but over the years, I was able to cultivate it through careful study, observation and practice.
To understand a person’s true essence requires a combination of keen observation, openness, and an ability to tap into our intuition. We have to slow down, step out of our ego and take a good look at the person standing in front of us, because there’s so much more than what we see on the surface. We need to look out for both the obvious and the nuanced.
When we study people, we also have to remain as objective as possible. There’s always a chance that we will project “our stuff” onto others, which is why we need to be grounded and aware of our shadow traits before we can become better at reading others.
I’ve created some simple guidelines on what to look for when interacting with other people. Remember that the more you practice and accumulate experience, the better you will get at it.
Here are six effective tips that will make you a master at reading people:
1. Search for the meaning and motives behind their words: Too often, we get distracted with outward appearances. We must overcome this natural tendency to judge others by their façade by listening to the meaning behind the words that are being spoken. Look for substance and dive straight into the heart of the matter. For example, if your friend tells you that they would like to hang out with you more often, you can initially infer that what they’re really saying is that they’d like a deeper connection with you or that they might need a favor from you. You can only know their true motive by analyzing their behavior.
2. Look for patterns: It’s a known fact that we are what we repeatedly do. You can get a clear idea of what a person is all about by looking at what they consistently do – their habits, mannerisms and general disposition. Past behavior and personal history can also offer some insights into their decision-making abilities. As Dr Phil repeatedly says in his shows: “The best predictor of future behavior is relevant past behavior.” Increase your powers of observation by slowing down and noticing peoples patterns.
3. Observe their body language: It’s been proven that our body communicates our true thoughts and feelings (especially on a subconscious level). In fact, research has shown that body language accounts for 55% of the overall message. There are plenty of great books by seasoned professionals who read people for a living. They list specific signs with interpretations of what it all means. I believe that we can learn a lot by looking into someone’s eyes, as the eyes are the window to a person’s soul.
4. Consider their family and cultural background: Learning more about an individual family history and cultural background can explain a lot about why they act the way they do. For example, a woman who grew up in a broken family will most likely react differently emotionally in conflicts, compared to a woman who was raised in a stable, secure home environment. Culture also affects how a person conducts themselves. For instance, Eastern cultures like Chinese and Japanese people, in general, tend to be more introverted and not as assertive as their Western counterparts, and may therefore be mistaken for being passive or “boring”.
5. Listen to your gut: Sometimes, you simply need to get out of your analytical mind and tap into your intuitive intelligence. How many times have you had “feelings” about a certain individual? You probably had no idea why you felt the way you did but it felt strong and convincing. Even if there’s no rational explanation, it may be worth listening to, as this type of wisdom is coming from a deeper and more instinctive part of you that is programmed to catch the most subtle vibes in your surroundings.
Understanding people is the key to forming authentic connections. When we do it with empathy and compassion, we’ll be able to forge ties that are loving and that will stand the test of time.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What are your biggest challenges when it comes to reading people? What steps can you take to overcome them?
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