Reading People

Jul 24, 2021

What Say You?

A sidewards glance, a scratch of the brow, a hard swallow.

So much can be said without even opening your mouth.

The question is, are you observant enough to pick up on their honest signals?


Numbered boxes detail
Photo by Tim Evans / Unsplash

First impressions.

We all do it.

A quick glance over someone and assessing what type of person they are.

Considerations include gender, age, race, physical appearance, among other things.

How detailed are your assessments?

For me, it’s observing the finer points.

  • Are they married or engaged?
  • Do they have tattoos or piercings?
  • What style are they exhibiting, what brands do they wear, do they mix and match (e.g. different brands of exercise gear)?
  • What effort do they put into their appearance? Hairstyle, eyebrows, makeup, facial hair, fit and condition of clothing, (fake) nails, how clean their shoes are. Even what knot they tie their tie, the brand of and hand they wear their watch on.
  • How they carry and conduct themselves - do they appear confident, reserved or otherwise?

Women are generally better when it comes to observing and remembering a person’s appearance. Likely, because their appreciation of beauty, style and appearance in general, is greater than men's.

Think how many more sloppily dressed men you come across.

What do you do with this information?

A few things.

We all possess social skills - “the skills we use to communicate and interact with each other, both verbally and non-verbally, through gestures, body language and our personal appearance.”

Some are better than others, but with practice (and paying attention), these skills can be developed.

Look for relatability or topics you can raise as a point to talk about.

There’s nothing like breaking the ice by giving someone a compliment on something you know they’ve made an effort on.

I was on a bus when an elderly lady sat across from me.

Possibly married many years, she still took pride in her appearance, that day, wearing a faux leopard print jacket with matching hoop earrings.

Our eyes met at some point and I said to her, “I like how you matched your earrings with your jacket.”

Her face beamed as she smiled and said, “I still try my best.”

Everyone loves being complimented (especially women, gents).

Use your powers of observation to notice the effort people have made and acknowledge it.

Based on my assessment of someone, I’ll converse with them a certain way.

In my younger years, it was more about being accepted, fitting in. I’d talk and act like the company I was with.

Certain friends, I’d talk more street, use slang, curse, spit on the ground.

Around others, mature and proper.

Today, there’s still an element of that, however, I’m my own self. I no longer spit on the ground, instead, spit straight up into the air, then running away. 🤪

I’ll change how I converse to a certain degree, similar to how you change the way you talk to someone with broken English, or talking to a child. You speak differently to them than you would family or friends.

For example, if I’m visiting regional Oz, I tend to speak more ocker.

“How ya goin’?”, “Fuckin’ oath!”, “No wuckas, mate.”

This act of mimicking or subconsciously changing your behaviour is common. Ever adopted a phrase, gesture or behaviour you liked from someone else?

It’s known as the Chameleon Effect.

The last thing I’m doing when assessing someone is looking for congruency.

Is this person the real deal (genuine) or full of shit (fake)?

Be selective with the company you keep and people you do business with.

Surround yourself with the right people.

Protect yourself.

Information for this part of the assessment greatly comes from your interaction. Listening to what they say whilst observing their body language.

From your first encounter, you’ll create a mental file on that person and add to it over time, just as you’ve done with everyone you know.

You’ll learn tendencies, moods and patterns and how to act accordingly.

Think how a parent knows their child or you know when a friend is not acting like themselves.

You’ll know who you can count on, who’s most fun and who you can only stand so much of.

This is profiling.

Body Language

Photo by Hermes Rivera / Unsplash

Body language - the unspoken or nonverbal cues we exhibit, account for a large percentage of our communication.

Oftentimes you may be unaware of these cues (or “tells” as they’re known in poker) you exhibit, however, becoming familiar with common cues and behaviours will help you recognise them in your actions and others.

The majority come from our face as it is our primary source of communication and expression.

Each component of the face (forehead, glabella, eyes, nose, mouth, etc) reacts a particular way when expressing emotion and we’re attuned to picking up on those cues when interacting with others. You know when someone is happy, sad or angry because there’s a commonality in how our faces move.

Joe Navarro is a former FBI Agent and body language expert. In this clip, he breaks down and decodes each element of our face and how to interpret the many cues each display.

When engaging with someone, focus on their face and being at a distance where you’re able to view as much of their body as possible in your peripheral vision. Doing so gives you an opportunity to see their posture and any unconscious behaviour.

Be present. Don’t be in your head thinking what you’re going to say next.

Listen, observe.

Practice the art of active listening.

We’re all at different levels when it comes to reading and interpreting body language. Delving into the topic is both interesting and beneficial in your personal and interpersonal development.

More videos on the body language series are on Wired’s YouTube channel.

If there’s only one book to own on the topic, it's Joe Navarro’s “What Every Body is Saying.”

It’s about being able to ask someone, “How are you?”

And when they respond, “Fine,” recognising which side of fine and how far they are from it.


Who are you?
Photo by Maria Teneva / Unsplash

Here’s some practical advice to go out and try with everyone you come across.

You’re doing this to improve your observation skills, eye contact and interaction with strangers.

Next time when out in public, look everyone you walk past in the eyes.

If they look at you, smile and see if they smile back.

Many will ignore you, distracted or otherwise.

For those of us who are shy, the tendency is to look down or away when meeting eyes with someone. Just ask any guy who got caught staring too long.

Many of us struggle to be able to maintain eye contact, smile and say, “Hello.”

This is helping you overcome that fear by doing it indiscriminately with every person you come across.

If you’re nervous, start with the elderly as they’re often the most ignored in public, then build up your courage to be able to smile at anyone you meet.

Do not care about the outcome of any particular interaction. If someone stone-faces you, so what?

Word of caution: ⚠️  

Pick appropriate times, places and people to engage with.

This isn’t about being confrontational.

Be aware of your facial expression when looking at someone.

Distance matters.

I was walking into a supermarket when I met eyes with a guy walking out. He was a good five metres (sixteen feet) away.

I try to make a habit to win every interaction when playing this game; a win, holding eye contact until they look away first or we pass each other.

I was so intent on winning this interaction that I forgot to smile.

He stared right back at me, stone-faced, as we walked toward each other.

Too fucking far!

I chickened out and looked away a couple of metres (six feet) before walking past him.

Next time you interact with someone - at work, paying for groceries, wherever.

Ask a question like, “How are you?” and see what they say vs what their body language tells you.

How real or fake are they (un)intentionally being?

Learn to read people and recognise when what is coming out of their mouth doesn’t correlate to what their body is saying.

“Have more than you show, speak less than you know.” - William Shakespeare

Know your shit, shut up, ask questions and let them do the talking.

Some talk too much and don’t even recognise it.

Some stretch the truth or flat out lie.

There are ways to tell, but as with anything, there are masters of deception.

In almost all situations, your BS meter should be operating.

Most things I purchase, I research online beforehand. Rarely will I rely on the sole opinion of the salesperson.

At times, play dumb, test them to see what they know.

I took an interest in coffee years ago and visited an appliance store. Decent Italian machines were out of my price range, so was considering a retail product.

The salesperson was pushing me towards a particular machine which I had read on most reviews to be inferior to the one I desired.

I asked about the difference between thermoblocks and boilers.

His theory was correct but knowledge of the machine type he was spruiking, incorrect.

Learn to listen to, and harness your intuition - that voice inside of you when you ain’t sure about someone or something's awry. It’s almost always right.

It’s about developing your emotional intelligence - your ability to recognise and be in control of your emotions and behaviour as well as recognise, understand and adapt to change in others.

See where you’re at by testing your skills with Berkeley’s quiz and go from there.


Anything you pay attention to, the better you become at recognising.

Think how you notice vehicles just like yours since owning them.

What if you applied that perception to recognising emotions?

Be present.

Live in the now and pay attention.

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