Ever wondered how some people seem to have an uncanny ability to understand what’s going on in someone’s mind? While no one can truly read minds, understanding basic human behavior and psychological cues can provide a lot of insights. Here are 10 straightforward tricks to help you read people and figure out what they’re really all about.
1. Be logical and objective.
This is pretty tough, especially since we’re naturally biased by our own experiences and opinions. However, if you want to be able to read people, you have to look at them through a neutral lens. This allows you to create a baseline view of the person, and you can build from there.
Talking to Inc., former FBI agent LaRae Quy, who worked for the agency for 23 years, said that noticing what someone’s natural behavior is will help you notice anything out of the ordinary.
“People have different quirks and patterns of behavior. For example, they might clear their throat, look at the floor while talking, cross their arms, scratch their head, stroke their neck, squint, pout, or jiggle their feet frequently. Initially, we may not even notice when others do these things. If we do, we don’t give it much attention,” she explains. “People display these behaviors for different reasons. They could simply be mannerisms. Sometimes, however, these same actions could be indicative of deception, anger, or nervousness.”
2. Practice active listening.
Active listening isn’t just about catching every word; it’s about comprehending the essence. A hesitant tone might show uncertainty, a fast-paced speech might betray nervousness, and a lower volume might reflect insecurity or sadness. Distinguishing these nuances can unveil underlying sentiments.
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4. Check out their facial expressions.
The face often mirrors the heart’s emotions. For instance, a tightened jaw might signal frustration, while rapidly blinking eyes could be a sign of distress. Catching these fleeting expressions can give you a sneak peek into someone’s genuine emotions, especially those they might be trying to suppress.
5. Notice their eye contact (or lack thereof).
Eyes are frequently dubbed as windows to the soul for a reason, and they’re very important when trying to read people. Constantly darting eyes might hint at distraction or evasion, whereas direct, prolonged eye contact can showcase confidence, interest, or even challenge. However, remember that cultural differences can influence eye contact norms, so don’t use this as your sole measurement.
Not only can the eyes reveal how someone’s feeling — whether they’re scared, angry, happy, or even turned on — but they can also show you whether or not someone is lying. A 2009 study from the University of Utah (via Scientific American) found that people who lie have more dilated pupils than those who were being honest.
6. Pay attention to their body language.
Body language is one of the most telling signs of a person’s feelings. Crossed arms might be an instinctual response to feeling threatened or anxious, acting as a physical barrier. Slouched shoulders could indicate low self-esteem or exhaustion. By being observant of these cues, you can better gauge a person’s comfort level and emotional state, even when they’re silent.
Talking to mindbodygreen, body language expert Blanca Cobb, M.S., says sometimes it’s as simple as determining whether or not someone’s demeanor is “negative” or “positive.” Someone who tenses up might be seen as stressed or angry, while someone who’s relaxed, leaned back in their chair, etc. could be seen to be more relaxed, happy, and even trustworthy.
7. Look for micro-expressions.
Micro-expressions are like emotional leaks. These split-second facial changes—often unnoticed—can give away true feelings before a person has a chance to mask them. For instance, a brief flash of disgust or a momentary smile can provide insights into genuine reactions.
8. Gauge their reactions to compliments or criticism.
How someone responds to external feedback is a window into their self-perception. Those who brush off compliments might be battling feelings of unworthiness. Similarly, a defensive reaction to mild criticism can indicate insecurity or a fragile ego. Noticing these reactions can help tailor your interactions to be more supportive and understanding.
9. Assess their consistency.
Inconsistencies in words and actions can be telling. Someone who promises but rarely delivers might be struggling with commitment or prioritization. On the other hand, someone whose actions align with their words showcases integrity and reliability. This consistent behavior fosters trust.
10. Consider their fashion sense/the way they dress.
Fashion is a medium of self-expression. Someone who takes time to dress meticulously might value presentation or works in a setting where it’s crucial. On the other hand, someone who opts for comfort might prioritize functionality or personal ease. Observing these choices can offer insights into values and personal priorities.
Academics Mary Ellen Roach and Joanne Eicher reveal in their study “Dress and Identity” that the way we dress is so important because it’s how we send social signals to the world. That’s because we dress in ways that show off elements of our personality, our belief system, and our taste. According to the scholars, your clothes can show how powerful and influential you are, how intelligent you are, and how much money you make.
11. Be curious.
An open conversation is a gateway to understanding. By asking open-ended questions and genuinely listening to the answers, you can learn about a person’s beliefs, experiences, and viewpoints. The way they handle topics, shift between them, or choose to share or withhold information, reveals more about their character and comfort zones.
Not only that, but use your voice to ask questions! Be direct in what you want to know (though be careful what you’re asking — there are some questions you should never ask!) and see how open they are in responding. Their willingness to engage or their insistence on shutting down can be very illuminating and will help you read people much more easily.
12. Tune into their tone of voice.
Sometimes, it’s not the words but how they’re said that reveals the most. A rising inflection can indicate a question or uncertainty, while a monotone voice might betray disinterest or detachment. Catching these variations can help you understand the underlying intentions behind the spoken words. It can also help you figure out how you feel about that person.
“The tone and volume of our voice can tell much about our emotions. Sound frequencies create vibrations. When reading people, notice how their tone of voice affects you. Ask yourself: Does their tone feel soothing? Or is it abrasive, snippy, or whiny?” advises Dr. Judith Orloff, M.D., in an article for Psychology Today.
13. Recognize their defensive mechanisms.
People often deploy defense mechanisms when they feel threatened or uncomfortable. If someone frequently changes the topic, gives vague answers, or uses humor to deflect serious subjects, they might be trying to protect themselves emotionally.
14. Decipher their sense of humor.
Humor can be revealing. Someone who often uses self-deprecating jokes may have a humble personality or possibly low self-esteem. A dry sense of humor might suggest a cynical worldview, while those who prefer light-hearted or observational comedy might be more optimistic or detail-oriented.
Frank T. McAndrew, Ph.D., writes for Psychology Today that sense of humor acts as a “social radar” that helps attract similar people to you, whether as friends or romantic partners. It lets you know what they find funny, whether they believe any topic is beyond joking, and how much they value having a good laugh. That’s pretty powerful.
15. Notice how they respond to stress.
Pressure situations can strip away facades. A person’s reaction during challenging moments—whether they become confrontational, retreat, or seek collaborative solutions—gives insights into their coping mechanisms and emotional intelligence.
16. Look for their physical habits.
Repeated physical habits, like nail-biting, hair twirling, or foot tapping, can be indicators of emotional states. These might signify anxiety, boredom, or impatience. Recognizing these habits provides an additional layer to understanding one’s emotional state at a given moment.
As mentioned above, this may be baseline behavior that doesn’t indicate anything out of the norm. However, if the person doesn’t generally do this but does in certain situations, it can be an indicator of unease they feel or lies they might be telling.
17. Observe the dynamics of their interactions with other people.
Watching how a person behaves in group settings can be very telling. Do they dominate conversations or let others lead? Are they considerate of others’ opinions or dismissive? Their dynamics in group interactions can hint at their social confidence and leadership tendencies.
18. Pay attention to their listening habits.
Is the person genuinely absorbing what others say, or are they merely waiting for their turn to speak? A good listener who engages with active feedback showcases empathy and genuine interest, whereas a passive listener might be self-centered or simply disengaged.
19. Take note of their ability to be on time.
Regular punctuality can suggest a value for others’ time and an organized nature. Conversely, constant tardiness might indicate a more relaxed attitude towards commitments, or possibly deeper issues related to time management and prioritization.
20. Check out their social media presence.
Though digital, how someone portrays themselves on social platforms can be revealing. A carefully curated feed might suggest a desire for control or a particular self-image, while a more spontaneous presence might point to authenticity and openness. Someone who posts a lot and shares pretty much everything online likely feels the need for external validation, while someone whose accounts are locked likely wants to keep their circle small and share special moments only with those closest to them.
21. Trust your gut.
Sometimes, our instincts capture nuances that conscious observations miss. While it’s important to avoid snap judgments, don’t disregard your initial feelings about someone. These intuitive responses often synthesize numerous subtle cues that we’ve subconsciously registered.
22. Try to avoid making assumptions.
As much as all of these cues can help you read people like a pro, it’s important to give the person a fair chance to show who they really are. Deciding that someone is good or bad by limited interactions or even just by reading their body language rarely if ever tells the whole story and is bound to lead to misunderstandings and even misjudgments. Remember that while you should trust your gut, you should also not judge a book by its cover. It’s a fine balance, but with a bit of practice, you can strike it!