We’d all like to learn how to read people like Sherlock Holmes.
And research shows understanding things like body language is even more powerful than you might think.
MIT found that the outcome of negotiations could be predicted by body language alone 87 percent of the time.
From The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism:
After extensive studies, the MIT Media Lab concluded that it could predict the outcome of negotiations, telephone sales calls, and business plan pitches with 87 percent accuracy simply by analyzing participants’ body language, without listening to a single word of content.
But most of what you believe about body language and analyzing others is based on myth or guesswork, not real research.
So how can you learn how to read people the right way? Let’s get answers from experts and studies.
But first we need to understand all the mistakes you’re making.
Here’s what you’re doing wrong
In The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead, the author points out a number of common errors people make in reading people:
- Ignoring context: Crossed arms don’t mean much if the room is cold or the chair they’re sitting in doesn’t have armrests. Everything has to pass the common sense test given the environment. So ask yourself: “Should someone in this situation be acting like this?”
- Not looking for clusters: One of the biggest errors you make is looking for one single tell. That’s great in movies about poker players but in real life it’s a consistent grouping of actions (sweating, touching the face, and stuttering together) that is really going to tell you something. So ask yourself: “Are most of this person’s behaviors associated with X?”
- Not getting a baseline: If someone is always jumpy, jumpiness doesn’t tell you anything. If someone is always jumpy and they suddenly stop moving — HELLO. So ask yourself: “Is this how they normally act?”
- Not being conscious of biases: If you already like or dislike the person, it’s going to affect your judgment. And if people compliment you, are similar to you, are attractive… these can all sway you, unconsciously. (I know, I know, you don’t fall for those tricks. Well, the biggest bias of all is thinking you’re unbiased .)
(To learn the 4 rituals that will make you an expert at anything, click here.)
So you’re taking context into consideration, you’re looking for clusters of behaviors, you’re getting a baseline, and you’re aware of your biases. Tall order. Let’s make it simple to start.
In reading people, when can you trust your gut?
When to trust your instincts
Good news: your first impressions are usually pretty accurate.
They affect us in a big way and we are slow to change them .
Sam Gosling is about as close to Sherlock Holmes as you can get. He’s a personality psychologist at the University of Texas and author of the book Snoop. Here’s Gosling: