A Beginner’s Guide To Reading People

Have you ever been curious about what the inside of someone else’s mind might look like? Or been in a conversation and wondered how differently it would pan out if you could read their thoughts, even online?

Rakshita Thapar

BA Applied Psychology (Honours), MBA Student

Have you ever been curious about what the inside of someone else’s mind might look like? Or been in a conversation and wondered how differently it would pan out if you could read their thoughts, even online?

Well, this is where non-verbal cues come into play!

  • Facial Expressions

Did you know that seven basic emotions namely anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and happiness are universally recognised? Darwin believed that the ability to recognise emotions in others has a survival value for a species, known as the ‘face in the crowd effect’, where people are quicker to spot threatening emotions such as anger than neutral or even happy expressions. In fact, anger can be recognised by fixed geometric patterns on the face.

If you see the Pixar movie “Wall-E”, you would notice how they have managed to make a robot, with simply a panel for a face, appear hostile. The key point to note here are the triangular eyes that point downwards. Such hard, downward lines on the forehead, cheeks, mouth, and chin, display temper.

These non-verbal cues also influence social perception, enabling quicker and a more accurate judgement of others. Perls, a famous psychologist, once said “Lose your mind and come to your senses.” When interacting, moment-by-moment feedback attunes to what we are willing to say and do. Thus, it becomes essential to pick up these subtle changes in facial expressions, body language, eye contact, and tone of voice.

  • Eye Contact

Eyes, often called the ‘window of the soul’ have a lot to give away about you. In most cultures it is assumed that someone who avoids your gaze is evasive, cold, fearful, shy, indifferent, or may even have something to hide. In contrast, frequent gazing signals intimacy, sincerity, self-confidence and respect. And precisely why it is recommended to maintain eye contact during interviews. However, you might want to keep that in check, it’s a fine line between a gaze and a stare with the latter eliciting a negative impression.

  • Touch

Another primitive but powerful form of non-verbal behaviour is touch. While the physical touch has long been regarded as an expression of friendship, nurturance and interest, it also serves other functions. Touching is an expression of not only intimacy but of dominance and control. If you’ve noticed, in office dramas like Suits and Mad Men, the high-powered characters often use touch, such as escorting someone out by placing their hand on the waist, to establish a power dynamic which is in their favour.

  • Body Language

As for body language, those who have a youthful walking style- who swing their arms in a bouncy rhythm, bend their knees, sway their hips, pick up their feet-  are seen to be happier and more powerful than those who walk slowly or take shorter steps and appear to be stiffly dragging their feet. Similarly, closed postures and gestures indicate unfriendliness, hostility or even anxiety in some cases. On the other hand, open postures reflect friendliness and willingness. Placement of hands and feet are also important indicators of affective states. Crossed arms are often reflective of a defensive attitude. Hands on the waist, in contrast, are a sign of aggressiveness, or may mean that a person is ready to take charge.

Reading people online:

The human face and body language are rich in meaning and emotion. But since these visual cues are missing in cyberspace, especially in the current scenario, it is also helpful to understand how a person’s affect and personality are reflected in cyberspace.

One can gain the same insights about people on social media by examining the photos they post over months or years, though the style and personality changes over time, the things that are essential and fundamental to them remain constant. Traditional categories in photography are useful to classify the basic types of subjects captured in a picture ranging from portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, abstract, fashion, animals etc. These determine the dominant aspects of their lifestyle and personality.

For example: Those who love photography, whether be an amateur or a professional, often capture images that echo their identity. Every picture we take is a self-portrait because we only take shots of things that interest us, which says something about who we are.

According to researchers, people highlight specific psychological and emotional issues in their social media photographs. The specific set of imaging tools and techniques that a person relies on also reflects their personality styles. For instance, a histrionic (dramatic) individual might emphasise the colour in the photographs through use of additional filters and effects. Thus, if you come across a profile with consistent use of intense and accentuated filters, or enhanced hues, it may mean that the person has a flair for theatrics or that they may be a ‘night owl’.

Understanding these signs can go a long way towards improving communication and while it may be tempting to pick these signals piece by piece, it is important to view these in conjunction with verbal cues or an environmental context. Now that you’re equipped better than the general people, do judge a book by its cover.

Note: Digital Dialogues holds the right to use this piece of content as authorised by the owner. If you wish to use material from this article for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’ you must obtain permission from the copywrite owner. Also, there might be references taken from various sources on the internet. The main intent is to share across information to the reader!

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