How to read people like a pro: 17 tricks from psychology

how to read people

Now, don’t get freaked out.

This article is not about reading minds like Edward Cullen of Twilight. Only vampires can do that (if they exist).

It’s about knowing, beyond words, what other people want to say. It’s about sensing what they truly mean, even when they say otherwise.

The ability to read people properly will significantly affect your social, personal, and work life.

When you understand how another person is feeling, you can then adapt your message and communication style to make sure it is received in the best way possible.

It’s not that hard. This may sound cliche, but you don’t need any special powers to know how to read people.

So, here are 17 tips for reading people like a pro:

1. Be objective and open-minded

Before you attempt to read people, you must first practice having an open mind. Do not let your emotions and past experiences influence your impressions and opinions.

If you judge people easily, it will cause you to misread people. Be objective in approaching every interaction and situation.

According to Judith Orloff M.D in Psychology Today, “Logic alone won’t tell you the whole story about anybody. You must surrender to other vital forms of information so that you can learn to read the important non-verbal inutive cues that people give off.”

She says that to see someone clearly you must “remain objective and receive information neutrally without distorting it.”

2. Pay attention to appearance

Judith Orloff M.D says that when reading others, try to notice people’s appearance. What are they wearing?

Are they dressed for success, which indicates they are ambitious? Or they are wearing jeans and a t-shirt, which means comfort?

Do they have a pendant such as a cross or Buddha which indicates their spiritual values? Whatever they wear, you can sense something from it.

Sam Gosling, a personality psychologist at the University of Texas and author of the book Snoop, says that you should pay attention to “identity claims”.

These are things people choose to show with their appearances, such as a t-shirt with slogans, tattoos, or rings.

Here’s Gosling:

“Identity claims are deliberate statements we make about our attitudes, goals, values, etc… One of the things that are really important to keep in mind about identity statements is because these are deliberate, many people assume we are being manipulative with them and we’re being disingenuous, but I think there’s little evidence to suggest that that goes on. I think, generally, people really do want to be known. They’ll even do that at the expense of looking good. They’d rather be seen authentically than positively if it came down to that choice.”

Also, some findings suggest that perhaps psychological traits can – to some degree – be read on a person’s face.

Vinita Mehta Ph.D., Ed.M. explains in Psychology Today:

“Higher levels of Extraversion were related to more protruding nose and lips, a recessive chin and masseter muscles (the jaw muscles used in chewing). By contrast, the face of those with lower Extraversion levels showed the reverse pattern, in which the area around the nose appeared to press against the face. These findings suggest that perhaps psychological traits can—to some degree—be read on a person’s face, though more studies would be needed to understand this phenomenon.”

3. Pay attention to people’s posture

A person’s posture says a lot about his or her attitude. If they hold their head high, it means they are confident.

If they walk indecisively or cower, it may be a sign of low self-esteem.

Judith Orloff M.D says that when it comes to posture, look for if they hold their high in a confident manner, or if they walk indecisively or cower, which indicates low self-esteem.

4. Watch their physical movements

More than words, people express their feelings through movements.

For example, we lean toward those we like and away from those we don’t.

“If they’re leaning in, if their hands are out and open, palms facing up, that’s a good sign that they are connecting with you,” says Evy Poumpouras, a former Secret Service special agent.

If you have observed that the person is leaning away, it means he or she is putting up a wall.

Another movement to notice is the crossing of arms or legs. If you see a person doing this, it suggests defensiveness, anger, or self-protection.

Evy Poumpouras says that “if someone is leaning in and all of a sudden you say something and their arms crossed, now I know I said something that this person didn’t like.”

On the other hand, hiding one’s hands means that they are hiding something.

But if you see them lip biting or cuticle picking, it means they are trying to soothe themselves under pressure or in an awkward situation.

5. Try to interpret facial expressions

Unless you are a master of the poker face, your emotions will be etched on your face.

According to Judith Orloff M.D, there are several ways to interpret facial expressions. They are:

When you see deep frown lines forming, it may suggest the person is worried or overthinking.

On the contrary, a person who is truly laughing will show crow’s feet – the smile lines of joy.

Another thing to watch out for are pursed lips which can signal anger, contempt, or bitterness. Additionally, a clenched jaw and teeth grinding are signs of tension.

Also, Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. in Psychology Today describes a classification of smiles in Psychology Today.

They are:

Reward smile: Lips pulled directly upwards, dimples at the sides of mouth and eyebrows lift. This communicates positive feedback.

Affiliative smile: Involves pressing lips together while also making little dimples at the side of the mouth. Sign of friendship and liking.

Dominance smile: Upper lip is raised and cheeks get pushed upwards, the nose gets wrinkled, indentation between nose and mouth deepens and raised upper lids.

6. Don’t run away from small talk.

Maybe you feel unease with small talk. However, it can give you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the other person.

Small talk helps you observe how a person behaves in normal situations. You can then use it as a benchmark to accurately spot any behavior that is out of the ordinary.

In The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead, the author points out a number of errors that people make when trying to read people, and one of them was that they don’t get a baseline of how they normally act.

7. Scan the person’s overall behavior.

We sometimes assume that if a particular action is done, like looking down at the floor during a conversation, it means the person is nervous or anxious.

But if you are already familiar with a person, you will know whether the person avoids eye contact or is just relaxing when he or she looks down the floor.

According to LaRae Quy, a former counterintelligence agent for the FBI, “people have different quirks and patterns of behavior” and some of these behaviors “could simply be mannerisms”.

That’s why creating a baseline of others’ normal behavior will help you.

Learn how to identify any deviation from a person’s usual behavior. You will know something is wrong when you notice a change in their tone, pace or body language.

8. Ask direct questions to get a straight answer

To get a straight answer, you have to stay away from vague questions. Always ask questions that require a straight answer.

Remember not to interrupt when the person is answering your question. Instead, you can observe the person’s mannerisms as they talk.

INC advises to look for “action words” to get insight into how someone thinks:

“For example, if your boss says she’s “decided to go with brand X,” the action word is decided. This single word indicates that most likely your boss 1) is not impulsive, 2) weighed several options, and 3) thinks things through…Action words offer insights into the way a person thinks.”

9. Notice the words and tone used

When you talk to someone, try to notice the words they use. When they say “This is my second promotion,” they want you to know that they also earned a promotion previously.

Guess what? These type of people rely on others to boost their self-image. They want you to praise them so they will feel good about themselves.

According to Judith Orloff M.D, you should also lookout for the tone used:

“The tone and volume of our voice can tell much about our emotions. Sound frequencies create vibrations. When reading people, notice how their tone of voice affects you. Ask yourself: Does their tone feel soothing? Or is it abrasive, snippy, or whiny?”

11. Listen to what your gut says

Listen to your gut especially when you first meet a person. It will give you a visceral reaction before you have a chance to think.

Your gut will relay whether you’re at ease or not with the person.

According to Judith Orloff M.D,  “Gut feelings occur quickly, a primal response. They’re your internal truth meter, relaying if you can trust people.”

12. Feel the goosebumps, if any

Goosebumps happen when we resonate with people who move or inspire us. It can also happen when a person is saying something that strikes a chord within us.

“When we look at research [on the chills], outside of the evolutionary response to warm ourselves, it’s music that seems to trigger it, as well as moving experiences and even movies,” said Kevin Gilliland, a Dallas-based clinical psychologist.

Additionally, we feel it when we experience deja-vu, a recognition that you’ve known someone before, though you’ve actually never met.

13. Pay attention to flashes of insight

Sometimes, you may get an “ah-ha” moment about people. But stay alert because these insights come in a flash.

We tend to miss it because we go onto the next thought so rapidly that these critical insights get lost.

According to Judith Orloff M.D, gut feelings are your internal truth meter:

“Gut feelings occur quickly, a primal response. They’re your internal truth meter, relaying if you can trust people.”

14. Sense the person’s presence

This means that we have to feel the overall emotional atmosphere surrounding us.

When you read people, try to notice if the person has a friendly presence that attracts you or you face a wall, making you back off.

According to Judith Orloff M.D, presence is:

“This is the overall energy we emit, not necessarily congruent with words or behavior.”

15. Watch people’s eyes

They say our eyes are the doorway to our souls – they transmit powerful energies. So take the time to observe people’s eyes.

When you look, can you see a caring soul? Are they mean, angry, or guarded?

According to Scientific American, eyes can “convey whether we are lying or telling the truth”.

They can also “serve as a good detector for what people like” by looking at pupil size.

16. Don’t make assumptions.

This almost goes without saying, but keep in mind that assumptions result in misunderstandings. When you easily make assumptions without even knowing the person, it brings more trouble.

In The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead, the author pointed out several errors people make when reading others and one of them was not being conscious of biases.

For example, if you assume that your friend is angry, then whatever they say or do will seem like concealed anger to you.

Do not jump to conclusions when your wife goes to bed early rather than watching your favorite TV show with you. Maybe she’s just tired – don’t think she is not interested in spending time with you.

The key to reading people like a pro is to relax and keep your mind open and positive.

17. Practice watching people.

Practice makes perfect so the more you study people, the more you can read them accurately.

As an exercise, try to practice watching talk shows on mute. Watching their facial expressions and actions will help you see what people are feeling when they are talking, without hearing any words.

Then, watch again with the volume on and see if you are right with your observation.

In conclusion:

One of the most important things you can know is how to read people.

It makes you sensitive to the struggles and needs of the people around you. It is a skill that you can learn to further boost your EQ.

The good news is that anyone (that includes you!) has the ability to read people.

The thing is, you just need to know what to look for.

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