6 signs you’re exceptionally good at reading people, according to psychology

So you think you’re great at reading people, huh?

You know what, same. Especially when I was younger.

It was 2009 and “Lie to Me” just aired its first episode. And let me tell you, I WAS HOOKED. 

For weeks I was looking at people’s faces trying to catch a microexpression, trying to convince myself I could read people, too.

But wisdom comes from lived experiences and I realized that reading people is more than just their facial expressions.

Let’s dive into the other signs. 

Here are 6 signs you’re exceptionally good at reading people, according to psychology.

1) You pay attention to body language and nonverbal cues

It had been some time ago when I was watching a true crime case on YouTube that I heard of the term “Duper’s Delight”. It was about a woman named Diane Downs who shot her three children and ultimately killed one of them.

She gave interviews falsely recounting what happened, and at one point she had on an involuntary smile as she talked about one of her children bleeding. 

That is Duper’s Delight, and as MindTools explains, it’s the “emotional boost, or thrill, that some people get when they successfully cheat or deceive another person or organization.”

As someone who watches a lot of true crime content, I get to see this a lot in interviews of guilty (and smug) suspects. It’s only one way that body language is important in reading people.

However, it’s critical to note that body language is not an airtight way to read someone. It’s an important part, but it’s not the only one. Context is needed. Intent is needed. Motivation is needed. 

Other examples of body language and nonverbal cues:

  • Crossing arms in front of the chest could come off as a defensive posture. It could mean that they’re trying to hide something, but also, as body language is not foolproof, it could just mean they’re feeling cold.
  • A hunched posture could indicate a lack of confidence, but it could also just mean that a person is in their natural relaxed state. That or they’re tired. 
  • Someone invading your personal space can be a sign of aggression and hostility.
  • A person could be flirting with you if they maintain eye contact and are touchy.
  • Fake smiling could mean a lot of things, from discomfort to a guilty conscience. 

Another important note before we move on to verbal cues is that differences in culture should also be considered. What’s disrespectful and suspicious to one culture could be normal and benign in others. 

2) You pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues at the same time

This synergy is crucial. Verbal communication, without context or nuance, could just be words. 

Someone can say “I’m fine” and be taken at face value. However, someone saying “I’m fine” in the context of sadness or anger gives a very different meaning. 

You’re good at reading people if you notice the hesitation in someone’s voice when you hear them say, “Oh, I guess that’s okay.” Or you understand someone’s anger in their silence. 

You’re good at reading people if you pay attention to what people say AND how they say it. 

3) You understand emotions 

In this paper entitled “Knowing What Others Think and Feel: Empathic Accuracy Across Adulthood” from the Annual Review of Developmental Psychology, Empathic Accuracy is defined as “the ability to read other people’s thoughts and feelings correctly.

It is a complex form of interpersonal inference that requires adequately integrating information from different sources, such as observation, knowledge, experiences, and reasoning.”

In simple terms, you have the ability to understand what people are feeling based on what you know and what you infer. 

Are you seeing how these first 3 points are connected? One can exist without the other but it’s an incomplete puzzle. 

And speaking of emotions, let’s jump to number 4.

4) You pay attention to people’s changes in emotions

It takes a discerning eye to catch people’s changes in emotion, especially if it’s of the subtle kind. This requires knowing the other person’s baseline and what you’re looking for are the deviations. 

Sure, we can easily say it’s rage if someone bursts into anger. Crying could be a sign of sadness or happiness depending on the situation. Clammy hands and trembling? Most probably fear. 

But what about the subtle changes in emotions? Or those who try to mask theirs?

What about the subtle signs of anger? The imperceptible clenching of the jaw, a defensive stance, a change in the tone of voice. 

What about crying? Could it be from longing? Or betrayal? Or catharsis? Hopelessness? Grief? Triumph?

Fear could be a sudden, involuntary widening of the eyes. Fear could show up as false bravado. Fear could be a guilty conscience. 

You’re good at reading people if you can infer these things. Emotions are complex, after all. And again, context is crucial. 

It’s not enough to know the particulars, you also have to know how to put them together. You also have to know how they work together.

5) You listen to your gut instinct

Intuition is a compass that can guide us in our most uncertain times. And using your gut feelings alongside the other points on this list? A power move.

Some people claim to always listen to their gut, some are more apprehensive. Still, it’s not incorrect to say that listening to our gut has its merits. 

Your body is literally making you pay attention. Our instincts can help us perceive danger and to help us take caution. Our instinct, whether consciously or subconsciously, helps us navigate a sticky situation. 

It’s a good sign that you’re good at reading people if you can objectively use your instincts and your knowledge to gauge a situation. 

This brings me to my last point, which is staying objective. 

6) You stay objective 

Kentucky Counseling Center says this, “In reading others’ emotions, you must first learn how to remain objective and have an open mind. Your past experiences and personal feeling[s] should not influence your opinions. Judging people immediately can cause you to misread their real intentions.”

This is where it gets tricky. 

It’s easy to get affected by the emotions that other people throw our way, and it’s easy to be subjective when feelings are involved, but objectivity is a necessary factor in reading people.

I hear this often when I listen to true crime cases, it’s said that seeing one piece of evidence and running with it can throw off an entire case. One needs to look at the big picture and keep looking until one arrives at an acceptable answer.

Staying objective during moments of high tension or quick thinking can be a challenge, but it’s one worth conquering. 

Final thoughts

Did this list make you realize that you’re better at reading people than you first thought or did it make you realize you don’t know people at all?

Either way, these are skills we can hone for ourselves. It can help us better navigate the world and our relationships. 

Just… maybe don’t be like 2009 me and stare at everyone in the face hoping to catch a microexpression, because if there’s anything I wish you can take from this, it’s that reading people is more than that. 

Much, much more than that. 

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