Secrets of Reading People

You can persuade, delegate and lead people more successfully if you understand what they’re thinking. But most people won’t tell you what’s on their mind. It’s up to you to guess.

But why rely on guesswork? Through keen observation and rapt attentiveness, you can read people to learn what makes them tick. This can come in handy when you’re starting a new job or establishing a relationship with a key boss or employee.

Use these techniques to unearth what others really think:

Watch the eyes. When you ask someone to state an opinion, make eye contact. If the individual looks right at you as she begins her answer, that shows confidence and indicates she’s comfortable sharing her input. But if she looks away, she may lack faith in her comments or at least feel antsy or uncertain about the subject.

Always notice when people break eye contact with you. They may look away when you start to give instructions or discuss details because they cannot keep up with you. And if they suddenly start blinking rapidly, that can signal deception, nervousness, annoyance or confusion.

Note small-group dynamics. There’s only so much you can read into someone’s behavior in a one-on-one conversation. Because you must listen and keep the dialogue going, that leaves less room to detach yourself and search for clues of what someone is truly thinking.

The solution: Try assembling three or four people to hash out an issue. Read each individual by noting whom he chooses to address, who earns the lion’s share of his eye contact, when and if he interrupts and how he acts when he’s silent.

For example, a genuinely curious, open-minded person will continue to sit up straight and send nonverbal cues that he’s listening even when the conversation shifts away from him and his favorite topic.

Feed off silence. Always note what people say after a few seconds of silence. Do they volunteer information or ask questions? Do they introduce new ideas or repeat old ones?

If someone does not rush to fill silence, that reveals a high degree of poise and self-awareness.

If an employee keeps defending himself, he may feel insecure about his work.