Reading people involves going beyond the words they form with their lips to the invisible ones created by their actions, interpreting both verbal and non-verbal cues. What stops most people from seeing others clearly is holding on to preconceptions, ego clashes, old resentments and such emotional baggage, so that they lose all objectivity and are unable to receive information neutrally, and without distortions.
A lot of misunderstandings can be avoided with the ability to properly read people. Many people don’t say exactly what they are thinking, but you can usually make pretty astute deductions from their eyes, expressions and body language. When you connect mentally and emotionally with an individual or a group, you can better understand their current mental state and use the knowledge to communicate effectively. By successfully creating deeper connections with people, you will enjoy better relationships and deeper fulfilment.
Reading Eyes and Facial Expressions
The eyes are said to be the window to the soul and can tell much about a person simply by gazing into them. According to body language experts, there are different factors that must be considered in order to correctly deduce a person’s state through his or her eyes:
The pupils of the eyes adjust to the amount of light taken in in the process of seeing by dilating and contracting. This movement can also be used to check the level of interest a person has as we speak with them. Try looking into the eyes of a friend during a particularly interesting discussion and watch the reaction when you change the subject to something less interesting.
Effective eye contact is necessary for everyday interaction with people. Eye contact is also needed for making contact and communicating without the use of words in a public arena. It can take a surprising amount of effort to maintain eye contact in a social situation. Eye contact is however expected to be regular and not overly persistent or evasive.
Overly persistent eye contact is generally considered to be an attempt to intimidate, making the object of the stare to feel uncomfortable or unnecessarily studied.
Evasive eye contact on the other hand is a sign of discomfort. A person who avoids looking at you may be ashamed to maintain eye contact if they are trying to be deceitful or dishonest.
Using the direction a person is looking to read him is more useful when they are thinking. Otherwise, they could just be following an interesting sight with their eyes. Looking to the left while thinking indicates that they are attempting to remember something. Looking to the right could be an indicator of more creative thoughts, which in related situations could be interpreted as an attempt to create a version of events in order to deceive. The direction of the eyes may be reversed if a person is left handed.
Crying in most cultures, is considered to be a result of an extreme feeling of emotion – sadness, grief, and in some cases, happiness or humour. So sometimes, the situation needs to be understood before crying can be interpreted.
Besides the natural need to blink, a person’s blink rate can be subconsciously altered by emotions and feelings present towards another while speaking. The average blink rate is 6 – 10 times per minute (in normal circumstances) and blinking more than that can be an indicator of attraction to the person talking. Blinking is also one of the signs of flirting for the same reason.
Winking is considered a cheeky form of flirting, especially in the West, and is usually done with people we are familiar with. In a different culture, winking could have a different meaning however. For instance, certain Asian cultures frown upon winking.
How to Convey a Positive ‘You’ with your Eyes
- Use regular eye contact to show that you are paying attention to what someone has to say.
- Remember to avoid overly persistent or evasive eye contact.
- The best way to show interest is to keep your eyes on your partner’s face about 80% of the time, all the while moving down to the nose and lips and occasionally looking away and back again.
Body Language Interpretation Techniques
An amazing amount of information about what a person is thinking can be gotten from their body language, especially if you know what to look for. According to research, the words we say make up only 7% of communication, tone of voice 38% while body language is 55% of total communication. By really looking at people and studying their body language, you can learn to understand people better.
The next time you are in a discussion with someone, whether on a date or at a formal gathering, look out for the following indicators when trying to read a person
What can a person’s posture tell you about him? An erect posture accompanied by gestures made with the palms facing down and other open gestures suggest a person feels in control – and they usually are. The brain automatically equates power with the amount of space taken up by a person. A person standing up straight with the shoulders back can be correctly judged to be more confident than a slouching person.
Clenched Jaws and Furrowed Brows
These are signs that something is wrong or the individual is stressed. In such cases, what the individual is saying might be different from what his body language is saying. Maybe the subject under discussion is one they are anxious about, or they are not mentally present with you and focusing on their other troubles.
Mirrored Body Language
People unconsciously mirror body language when they feel a bond with the other person. It shows that the conversation is flowing smoothly and that the individual is open to your message. You might notice that when you cross or uncross your legs, the person does the same thing. Understanding body language is particularly helpful in negotiations because you can safely gauge what the person is actually leaning towards on the deal.
Crossed arms and legs signal a physical, emotional and mental distance from what you are saying, even if the other person is smiling and engaging in pleasant conversation with you. Generally, this body language is unconscious and unintentional, which makes it all the more reliable as a way to read a person.
Other body language include raised eyebrows to signify fear, shock or worry; and exaggerated nodding which shows an person is anxious about what you think about them or that you are doubtful about their ability to follow your instructions.
Understanding Different Emotions for Better Communication
Understanding people’s emotional states means that you can adequately recognise how people are feeling based on their actions. According to research, the skill of understanding different emotions shows good leadership qualities and can help improve communication. A helpful test developed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen for determining how good you are at telling one emotion from the other is the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ test. Participants are required to look at a number of sets of eyes, and then choose four words that properly describe the thoughts or feelings of the person in the picture.
There are plenty occasions on a daily basis, in which you and those you interact with communicate and interpret each other’s feelings. Improving your skills at reading people will make your interactions with people all the more satisfactory. Emotional awareness will make your communications better, because you will understand what is being communicated to you and the reasons behind it. More often than not, understanding how a person is communicating with you is more important than what is being said.
Using Empathy and Trust in Communication
Having empathy helps us understand and relate to the feelings of another person. Once you have learned to recognise another person’s feelings, you can take it a step further by relating to the feelings. If for example, a particularly cheerful co-worker suddenly seems unusually tired and stressed, you should attempt to discover the reason for the downturn. If he lets you know that he is stressing out because he doesn’t have a lot of time to prepare for a presentation, you can empathise by putting yourself in his shoes. By empathising, you are thinking about how you would want to be talked to in such situation. If some words of encouragement or an offer to help would make you feel better, then you should do the same for your co-worker.
Building trust between yourself and the person you are talking to is important for good communication. To earn the trust of others, send non-verbal cues that match up with what you are saying. The difference between your verbal and non-verbal communication could put doubts in the person’s mind about what you are saying. For example, leaning away from the person and crossing our arms while saying yes sends a conflicting message.
Reading people’s emotions and nonverbal cues properly also calls for you to trust your instincts. If you feel in your gut that there is something weird in how a person is communicating to you, take the time to investigate it. If you leave it, you’ll find your mind sprouting doubting thoughts about the person you’re talking to and such mistrust could well be misplaced or totally wrong.
Learning to Connect Emotionally and Mentally
We live in a fast paced world that can be quite unforgiving. Everybody is busy to the point where it’s so easy to forget about how to make real emotional and mental connections with the people around us. The word ‘emotional’ means to arouse strong, deep feelings such as love, anger, joy, sorrow, or any other kind of emotions we experience as humans. Each person holds a unique definition of what an emotional connection looks like, but a basic definition which applies to all is:
Emotional Connection – a bundle of subjective feelings which when put together creates a bond between two or more people.
This bond flourishes in an atmosphere of safety because people take risks and open up when they feel safe. When someone is very caring, accepting and compassionate, people tend to feel safe around him or her.
How then can you connect emotionally?
By listening to the person reaching out to you on an emotional level, beyond concepts and ideas. Go deeper and discover the feelings behind the ideas. For example, if your friend who is a budding entrepreneur tells you about how her day was filled with delivering pitches to investors about her company, how do you relate if you’ve never started a company before? By thinking back to a time when you felt a similar level of anxiety in a high-stakes situation, you can understand and show the empathy she needs.
There’s an emotion tied to everything someone says to you, whether they are facts or opinions. In order to connect emotionally, share moments in your life where you’ve felt the same emotions. While people go through different situations, embarrassing moments, sad moments, moments of joy, anger, and so on - the same underlying emotions run through them all.
Share to Connect
Most people are unwilling to open up about their personal experiences to everyone because they are so meaningful. You might therefore have to make the first move. If you are not one to talk about your past, present or future, you might find that the people you are trying to connect to are unwilling to share either. It can be challenging to build relationships and emotional connections without exposing your vulnerable side first. By allowing your emotions to come through, you’ll elicit emotional responses in return and be able to forge connections.
Relating emotionally with people involves tapping deeply into your feelings. It takes a bit of practice, especially when you are not naturally inclined to do so. If at first you struggle, don’t worry about it because after a while it will come as naturally and instinctively as possible. Best of all, you’ll start to experience deeper and richer friendships and relationships.
The Best Ways to Start Conversations
Starting a conversation is easy when you are not overthinking it. Realise that every person wants the same things you do – love, laughter, and safety – so give them just that. Even if you take the step and talk to the person only to get rejected, you have achieved some amount of success simply by taking action. Standing on the corner pondering different scary outcomes is the sure avenue for failure.
Want to have brilliant conversations with people you meet? Consider some of the following killer conversation starters:
To master small talk and make it more interesting, instead of giving bland, one-word answers, consider asking open-ended questions.
Instead of these...
- “What’s up?”
- “How are you?”
- “What’s your name?”
- “What do you do?”
- “How was your day?”
- “Where are you from?”
- “How was your weekend?”
- “What does this house remind you of?”
- “Who do you think is the luckiest person here?”
- “What are you looking forward to this week?”
- “Tell me three unlikely things you did today.”
- “Tell me where you would go right now, if you could teleport by snapping your fingers”
- “What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”
- “What does your name mean?” (If they say, “I don’t know,” reply, “What would you like it to mean?”)
Any of these will do the trick. Generally, people are so relieved when the other person starts the conversation. When you ask an open-ended question and the person gives what seems like a too short answer, establishing a common ground by answering the same question could keep the conversation going. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions and go deeper with interesting questions.
The S.O.F.T.E.N. Technique
The S.O.F.T.E.N. Technique is very helpful for keeping your body language in sync and creating a great non-verbal impression while talking or listening to the other person’s response.
S – Smile
O – Open up your posture
F – Forward leaning
T – Touch (shaking hands or patting the person’s shoulders or back in appropriate situations)
E – Eye contact (in a normal amount)
N – Nod while the other talks
If you can get out of your own head, you will find that starting a conversation comes easy enough. Usually, we view people through selfish lens, so that instead of thinking about how we can help and be of service, we are more focused on what they can do for us. The right things to say will come quicker and smoother when you get out of your head and consider the other person instead. When you make yourself available for the other person, thinking of what to say is not that hard.
It can be a lonely world without people to talk to and connect with. Try some of the techniques suggested to ease into the process of developing relationships. Where you are confused, and it does happen from time to time because people give off a wide range of confusing verbal and nonverbal cues, try reading them by looking at their eyes, body language and emotional status. By making small talk and asking open-ended questions, you’ll enjoy social interactions more, and experience greater fulfilment.