Being perceptive about other people's feelings and thoughts is an important skill that will help you to navigate interpersonal relationships. Though each human is different, we are all, on a core level, wired the same. Here's how to get started on recognizing even the most fleeting of subtle cues.
Establishing A Baseline
1. Know the person. To really be able to read someone, you have to know them well. By getting to know someone personally, you'll have a better idea of what their likes or dislikes are, what their common habits are, and what is or isn't necessarily a "tell."
Base your opinions of others on several encounters with them, not just 1. People may act and speak differently depending on the situation.
For example, you may have a friend who is commonly very fidgety. If so, their fidgeting may not be a sign of lying or nervousness. If you were to meet them on the street, common knowledge would deem them nervous or anxious. Nope. They just have an excited leg.
Pay attention to the habits of others. Do they maintain eye contact all the time? Do their voices change when they're nervous? When they're preoccupied, how do they transmit it? This will key you in to what you should be looking for when attempting to read them.
2. Ask open-ended questions. When you're reading someone, you are watching and listening. What you're not doing is grabbing the conversation by the horns and steering it in your direction. So ask your question and get out of there. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Open-ended questions will allow them to talk more so that you can observe them longer.
You'll be best off asking to-the-point, pertinent questions. If you say, "How's your family?" you may get a rambling, all-over-the-place response that doesn't help you gauge well the information you're looking for. If you say, "What book are you reading currently?" you may be able to gather more personal information.
3. Look for inconsistencies in their baseline. A normally affectionate person who seems not to be physically present and doesn't seem to want to get near anyone with a 10-foot pole has something going on; the same behavior exhibited by Boo Radley does not necessarily mean the same thing. Once you've gathered how the person acts in day-to-day life, keep an eye out for the stuff that doesn't mesh.
If something doesn't seem to add up, you'll have to ask why, at least initially. They could simply be exhausted, had a fight with their significant other, got yelled at by their boss, or just have some small personal issue that's sticking in their craw. Do not assume it's a reflection of your relationship with that person before you have all the details.
4. Work in clusters. Seeing one cue is not grounds for jumping to a conclusion. After all, someone could be leaning away from you simply because that chair is hard to get comfortable in. If you are heavily relying on the non-verbal, make sure you have three or four signs before you start making assumptions.
Try to a take a cue from their words, their tone, their body, and their face. Once you get one from each and they all line up, it may be safe to proceed. But of course, a good way to ascertain if you're correct is just to be direct and ask.
5. Know your own weaknesses. As a mere mortal human, you are subject to fallibility. Just like the Pope. When you see something pretty, odds are you're going to like it. If it's wearing a finely-tailored Italian suit, you're probably going to trust it. Should you? Not necessarily.
Humans generally think of dangerous people as drunkards roaming the street unbathed and carrying a knife. In reality, most psychopaths are charming and have their act together. Though it's virtually impossible to actually take control of, just be aware that your subconscious is telling you to judge a book by its cover when that's not necessarily the best or most accurate thing to do.
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