Person Who Knows How To Read People

How To Read People Like a Pro: 9 Things To Focus On

From catching fleeting facial expressions to interpreting body language cues, mastering people reading can feel like having a sixth sense.

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Understanding the subtle cues and signals that people send through their body language, facial expressions, and vocal tones can significantly enhance your interpersonal interactions.

If you’re negotiating, networking, or simply engaging in casual conversation, being able to read people effectively can also lead to more meaningful and successful relationships.

Now, learning to read people isn’t just about picking up on what is said.

It’s about understanding the entire communication landscape, including those messages that are never spoken aloud.

This guide will help you tune into these silent signals, which can reveal the true thoughts and emotions of people you communicate with.

After reading this, I promise you will definitely become better at reading anyone.


1. Watch Their Posture


Posture is a powerful component of body language or nonverbal communication.

It can reveal a person’s confidence level, mood, and even their openness to interaction.

Observing how someone holds themselves can give you insights into their current state of mind and feelings.

Here are some key examples of how posture might manifest in various scenarios.


Open vs. Closed Posture


  • Open Posture. When someone has an open posture, they typically stand or sit with their arms at their sides or use gestures that expose their palms.

    This posture suggests that a person is approachable and receptive.

    For instance, during a networking event, a person standing with relaxed shoulders and uncrossed arms is likely to feel confident and open to engaging in conversations.


  • Closed Posture. In contrast, a closed posture – such as crossed arms, hunched shoulders, or crossed legs- might indicate that a person is feeling defensive, anxious, or uninterested.

    For example, if you’re speaking with someone who consistently maintains a closed posture, they might be feeling uncomfortable or skeptical about the conversation.


Dominant vs. Submissive Posture


  • Dominant Posture. This includes standing tall, with shoulders back and chest out, often taking up more space.

    Such a posture conveys confidence and a sense of control.

    A manager addressing their team while maintaining this posture is likely trying to project authority and assertiveness.


  • Submissive Posture. Conversely, a submissive posture, where the person makes themselves physically smaller by slouching or keeping their head down, suggests a lack of confidence or submissiveness.

    In a meeting, an employee who sits with slumped shoulders and avoids eye contact might feel intimidated or less confident about their ideas.


Leaning and Orientation


  • Leaning In. When someone leans towards you, especially in seated positions, it typically indicates interest and engagement.

    For example, if the person leans towards you while you speak during a coffee meet-up, it’s a strong indicator that they are actively engaged and interested in the conversation.


  • Leaning Out. If someone leans back or maintains a noticeable distance, it might suggest they are disengaged, disinterested, or taking a defensive stance.

    In negotiations, if a participant leans back and crosses their arms after a proposal is made, they might be signaling disagreement or a need to step back and evaluate.


2. Analyze Their Gestures


Gestures are dynamic communication components that can reveal a lot about a person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Unlike posture, which provides a general sense of a person’s demeanor, gestures can be specific and nuanced, offering real-time insights into emotional states and reactions during interactions.

Here’s how to interpret some common gestures.


Hand Gestures


  • Open Hands. When someone speaks with open hands, especially if the palms are visible, it generally suggests honesty, openness, and a straightforward approach.

    For example, a salesperson explaining a product with open hands may be perceived as trustworthy and sincere.


  • Closed Hands or Fist. Conversely, clenched fists can indicate stress, frustration, or anger.

    During a heated discussion, if someone suddenly clenches their fists, it may signal that they are holding back strong emotions or disagree strongly with what is being said.


  • Pointing. Pointing can often be seen as aggressive or accusatory.

    In a professional setting, pointing may be used to emphasize a point or command attention, but it needs to be used carefully as it can easily come across as domineering.


Illustrative Gestures


  • Iconic Gestures. These are gestures that visually represent the content of speech.

    For example, when someone describes a large circle with their hands while talking about a big idea, they are using gestures to help illustrate their point.

    This can enhance the listener’s understanding and retention.


  • Metaphoric Gestures. These gestures symbolize abstract ideas without a concrete visual representation.

    For instance, someone might push their hands downward when talking about calming down.

    Observing these can give clues to the speaker’s underlying attitudes or emotions about the discussed topic.



  • Self-Adaptors. These gestures are often signs of discomfort or self-soothing, such as rubbing hands, playing with hair, or touching one’s neck.

    These movements might indicate that the person is nervous, anxious, or even lying.

    For instance, if someone frequently touches their neck while answering questions during an interview, they might be feeling stressed or unsure.


  • Object-Adaptors. Interactions with objects can also provide insight.

    Incessantly tapping a pen, squeezing a stress ball, or obsessively cleaning glasses can indicate boredom, anxiety, or a need for distraction.

    Observing how someone manipulates objects during a conversation can offer additional context about their emotional state.


3. Notice Facial Expressions


Facial expressions are powerful indicators of emotion and intention.

They can convey a wealth of information about what someone is truly feeling, often more accurately than words.

The human face can make countless expressions by combining different facial muscles, but certain key expressions are universally recognized and particularly telling.

Here’s how to read and interpret some fundamental facial expressions.


The Six Basic Emotions


Psychologists often refer to six basic emotions that are universally expressed and recognized across cultures: happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, and surprise.

Each of these emotions is associated with distinct facial expressions.

  • Happiness. Upturned corners of the mouth (smiling), raised cheeks, and crinkled eyes create crow’s feet.
  • Sadness. Drooping upper eyelids, descending corners of the mouth, and a slight pulling down of the eyebrows.
  • Fear. Widened eyes and eyebrows raised and pulled together, often with tension in the forehead and a raised upper lip.
  • Disgust. Wrinkled nose, raised upper lip, and sometimes a lowered brow.
  • Anger. Eyebrows down and together, eyes glaring, and lips pressed firmly together.
  • Surprise. Eyebrows raised, eyes widened, and mouth open.


Subtle and Complex Expressions


Beyond the basic emotions, people often display more subtle or complex expressions that blend different emotions or involve smaller, more controlled movements.

  • Contempt. Unlike in a smile, one corner of the lip might be pulled up and back.

    It’s often subtle but can indicate scorn or disdain.

  • Confusion. A furrowed brow and tilted head can indicate confusion or concentration.
  • Interest. Slightly raised eyebrows, a tilted head, and a slight smile can show interest and engagement.


Context and Congruence


When reading facial expressions, it’s important to consider the context of the situation and the congruence of expressions with spoken words.

  • Context. An expression should be read in the overall conversation and setting context.

    For example, a smile in a casual chat might have a different implication than a smile during a tense negotiation.

  • Congruence. Check if the facial expression matches what the person is saying.

    Incongruence can be a clue to deception or mixed feelings.

    For example, if someone says they are happy but displays a smile without engaging their eyes, their true feelings might be different.


4. Employ Feedback Tricks


Feedback is a dynamic tool in any form of communication.

It helps us validate or adjust our understanding of the interaction and the emotions involved.

Effective use of feedback can enhance relationships, improve communication, and help avoid misunderstandings.

Feedback can be verbal or nonverbal and can come in various forms.

  • Verbal Feedback. This includes the words people use to respond to you in conversation.

    It can be direct, such as explicit agreement or disagreement, or more nuanced, like comments that hint at feelings or thoughts.

  • Nonverbal Feedback. This encompasses all the nonverbal cues such as nods, facial expressions, gestures, posture changes, and even the pace or volume of speech.

    Nonverbal feedback often conveys more than verbal responses because it can reveal subconscious reactions.


Interpreting Feedback


Effective communication relies on sending messages and how well you interpret and respond to the feedback you receive.

  • Positive Feedback. Signals like nods, smiles, and open body language suggest agreement, comfort, or interest.

    For example, if you are discussing a topic and see the person regularly nodding and smiling, it likely means they are engaged and agree with your points.

  • Negative Feedback. Signs such as frowning, crossed arms, and avoiding eye contact might indicate disagreement, disinterest, or discomfort.

    If someone responds to your comments with these cues, they might be subtly showing their displeasure or disagreement.


Responding to Feedback


Knowing how to respond to the feedback you receive is crucial for maintaining effective communication and adjusting your approach as needed.

  • Affirmative Responses. Acknowledging positive feedback can reinforce good feelings and strengthen rapport.

    For example, reinforcing that point can deepen the connection if someone nods in agreement.

  • Addressing Negative Feedback. If you detect negative feedback, addressing it directly can help clarify misunderstandings and adjust the conversation to better suit both parties.

    Asking open-ended questions like, “It seems like you might have some reservations about what I just said—would you like to discuss them?” can open up a dialogue that may resolve underlying issues.


Feedback Loops


Creating a feedback loop can enhance understanding and effectiveness in communication.

  • Active Listening. Pay close attention not just to the content of what is being said but also to how it is being said and the accompanying nonverbal cues.
  • Clarification. Regularly seek clarification to ensure that your interpretation of the conversation aligns with the other person’s intent.
  • Adjustment. Be willing to adjust your approach based on the feedback you receive.

    This shows flexibility and respect for the other person’s perspective.


5. Notice Voice Fluctuations


Voice fluctuations, including changes in tone, pitch, pace, and volume, are powerful indicators of a person’s emotional state and sincerity.

By paying close attention to how someone speaks, not just what they say, you can gain deeper insights into their true feelings and thoughts.

Here’s how to interpret and use voice fluctuations effectively in your interactions:


Tone and Pitch


The tone and pitch of a voice can be particularly revealing.

  • Tone. A warm, gentle tone may indicate friendliness and openness, whereas a sharp, harsh tone might suggest annoyance or anger.

    The tone of voice often conveys emotions that are not explicitly expressed through words.

  • Pitch. A high pitch can indicate excitement, anxiety, or surprise, while a lower pitch might convey seriousness, authority, or sedateness.

    Sudden changes in pitch can also highlight points of emotional significance in the conversation.


Pace and Volume


How fast someone speaks and how loudly they do so can also provide clues about their emotional and psychological states.

  • Pace. A rapid speech rate may suggest that the speaker is excited, nervous, or agitated.

    Conversely, a slow pace might indicate that the speaker is searching for words, unsure, or wanting to emphasize their points carefully.

  • Volume. Increased volume can express enthusiasm, anger, or a desire to dominate a conversation.

    A softer volume might be used to convey confidentiality, sadness, or submission.




Variability in speech – how much someone’s pitch, tone, and volume change throughout their speech—can indicate emotional richness and responsiveness.

  • Monotone. A lack of variability, or monotone speech, may suggest boredom, disinterest, or even depression.
  • Variable. A highly variable voice can indicate a high level of engagement and emotional expression.

    It might show that the speaker is actively involved and emotionally affected by the conversation.


Pauses and Emphasis


The timing of pauses and the emphasis on certain words can significantly impact the message being conveyed.

  • Pauses. Strategic pauses can be used for emphasis, to gather thoughts, or to prompt a response from the listener.

    Frequent or awkward pauses might indicate nervousness or uncertainty.

  • Emphasis. Emphasizing certain words can change the message’s tone and meaning.

    For example, emphasizing “really” in “I really appreciate it” can strengthen the sincerity of the statement.


6. Always Consider Context


The context in which any interaction occurs can profoundly shape the dynamics of communication and influence how messages are perceived and understood.

Misinterpretations often occur when context is overlooked or misunderstood.

Here’s how to take context into account effectively when reading people.


Environmental Context


The physical setting where an interaction takes place can affect people’s behavior and communication style.

  • Public vs. Private Settings. People may be more reserved and formal in public or professional settings compared to more relaxed or open behavior in private settings.
  • Noise Levels. In a noisy environment, people might appear agitated or distracted not because of the conversation but due to external noise.
  • Comfort Level. Uncomfortable physical conditions, like excessive heat or cold, can influence a person’s mood and responsiveness.


Cultural Context


Cultural background influences how people express themselves and interpret others’ behaviors.

What is considered polite or appropriate in one culture can be perceived differently in another.

  • Nonverbal Cues. Gestures such as eye contact, how close one stands to others, and even certain facial expressions can have different meanings across cultures.
  • Communication Style. Some cultures value direct communication, while others may use more indirect methods.

    Understanding these differences is crucial for accurately reading intentions and emotions.


Situational Context


The specific circumstances surrounding an interaction also play a significant role.

  • Social Situations. In a casual social gathering, laughter and physical touch might be more frequent and not necessarily carry more profound significance.
  • Professional Context. The same behaviors might be restrained in a business meeting, making subtler cues more significant.
  • Emotional Circumstances. A person’s recent experiences, such as receiving good or bad news, can color their reactions during an interaction, independent of the immediate conversation.


Relational Context


The nature of your relationship with a person can affect how both of you behave and communicate.

  • Familiarity. With someone you know well, you might easily interpret their moods and intentions based on past interactions.
  • Stranger. With someone new, you may need to rely more heavily on universal expressions and be more cautious in interpreting cues until a clearer relational context is established.


Historical Context


Understanding the historical background between you and the person or any past events they’ve mentioned can provide insight into their current emotional state or behavior.

  • Past Conflicts. These can make an individual more guarded or sensitive about certain topics.
  • Previous Supportive Interactions. These can make a person more open and trusting in their interactions with you.


7. Develop Empathy


Empathy is more than just feeling sorry for someone; it’s about genuinely understanding their experiences from their perspective.

When you develop empathy, you not only improve how you read people, but you also foster stronger connections that are based on trust and respect.

Here’s how you can develop and apply empathy in everyday interactions.


Active Listening


To develop empathy, you must first truly listen to others – not just to respond but to understand.

  • Full Attention. Give the speaker your undivided attention.

    This means putting aside distracting thoughts, avoiding interruptions, and making eye contact.

  • Acknowledgment. Show that you are listening and understanding by nodding, using appropriate facial expressions, or giving verbal affirmations like “I see” or “I understand.”
  • Reflecting. Paraphrase what’s been said to show you have grasped the content.

    For example, “It sounds like you felt really overwhelmed by that situation.”


Ask Empathetic Questions


Empathetic questions help you delve deeper into another person’s experience and show that you care about their feelings and perspectives.

  • Open-Ended Questions. Encourage a fuller response by asking questions that require more than a yes or no answer.

    For instance, “How did that make you feel?”

  • Follow-Up Questions. Demonstrate interest and gather more details.

    If someone mentions they had a tough day, follow up with, “What happened that made it tough?”


Practice Perspective-Taking


Try to see the world from the other person’s point of view.

  • Imagine Yourself in Their Place. Consider how you would feel if you were in their situation, dealing with their unique challenges and experiences.
  • Consider Background Factors. Remember that people’s behaviors and reactions are shaped by a myriad of factors, including their background, personal experiences, and emotional state.


Respond with Compassion


Once you understand how someone feels, show compassion and support.

  • Verbal Support. Express understanding and solidarity.

    Say things like, “That sounds really difficult.

    I’m here for you.”

  • Practical Help. Sometimes, offering help or a solution can be more valuable than words.


8. Practice People Watching


People-watching isn’t just a way to pass the time; it’s a method to deepen your insights into human dynamics and nonverbal communication.

Observing people in different contexts teaches you a lot about social cues, interpersonal interactions, and cultural norms.

Here’s how you can practice people-watching effectively and ethically:


Choose the Right Environment


To start people-watching, pick a location where you can observe a diverse range of individuals and interactions.

  • Public Parks. Where people of all ages gather for leisure and social activities.
  • Cafés and Restaurants. Where you can observe a variety of social and professional meetings.
  • Public Transport. Where people’s behavior and interactions vary widely, often showcasing a range of emotions and behaviors.


Observe Discreetly


While watching people is fascinating, it’s crucial to do so respectfully.

  • Be Discreet. Avoid making people feel uncomfortable.

    Use peripheral vision and maintain a respectful distance.

  • Do Not Stare. Staring directly can make people feel uneasy or threatened.

    Instead, glance briefly and then look away.

  • Respect Privacy. Never use any aids like binoculars or cameras.

    People-watching is about casual observation, not surveillance.


Note Body Language and Interactions


Focus on how people communicate through their bodies and how they interact with each other.

  • Body Language. Look for posture, gestures, and movements that express emotions or attitudes.

    For example, observe how someone standing with crossed arms and a frown might be feeling defensive or unhappy.

  • Interpersonal Dynamics. Pay attention to interactions between individuals.

    How do they greet each other?

    What does their distance or touch say about their relationship?


Watch Facial Expressions


Facial expressions can reveal much about a person’s emotions, even in fleeting moments.

  • Expressions. Based on people’s facial expressions, try to identify basic emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, and surprise.
  • Context. Consider the context in which these expressions occur to understand their possible causes better.


9. Study Social Psychology


To further enhance your ability to read people, consider studying social psychology!

  • Educational Resources. Look into books, online courses, and academic papers on topics like nonverbal communication, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal dynamics.
  • Continuous Learning. Stay informed about new research and developments in psychology and human behavior.

    Engaging in ongoing education will refine your skills and deepen your understanding of the nuances of reading people.

  • Interactive Learning. Engage with experts and peers to practice techniques in a supportive environment.
  • Application of Theory. Use these opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations, enhancing your learning experience.




Mastering the art of reading people is a valuable skill that can enhance your interactions and help you navigate social situations with greater ease.

By understanding body language, honing your listening skills, and practicing empathy, you’ll be better equipped to understand what others are really thinking and feeling.

Remember, this skill requires patience and practice.

As you become more observant and reflective, you’ll find yourself becoming more attuned to the subtle social cues around you.

Co-authors at

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