How To Read Others: From Seeing To Observing (As published on Forbes.com)
Speaker, trainer, author and C-suite coach. Devika Das is the Founder and CEO of CORE Executive Presence.
You're standing next to your client, feeling good about your most recent meeting, believing that you're finally closing the deal after months of negotiation. This has been a rocky road and you're relieved, relaxed and feeling a sense of calm after three days of hard negotiations. As you hold out your hand to seal the conversation and talk about next steps, there is a subtle change in the client's expression, and they look away from your friendly eye contact while simultaneously shifting their pressure from one foot to the other.
Just then, you know that more work needs to be done to close the deal. You're a great communicator, and you were prepared for three long days of back and forth. However, goal-setting with the team and other behind-the-scenes logistics meant you did not pause to read the client as closely as you would normally do. There is more work to be done here.
Becoming an influential leader entails a deep understanding of human behavior and the needs of people while also communicating in a way that gets the work done, calms the anxiety of stakeholders and leverages the potential of others into action. To be influential, one must have a finger on the pulse of those who matter and be alert to nuances of behavior.
Observing and reading others is multi-dimensional. Reading others can be done by understanding the psychological aspects of behavior that are expressed through verbal and non-verbal "tells."
Here are three basic steps to become a master observer of people’s behavior.
Start With Yourself
In the busyness of accomplishment and ambition, one often loses the perspective of observing one's self. Self-awareness and great observation are the basic building blocks of adaptability.
There is no greater observation than the understanding of one’s own triggers, deep desires, wishes and fantasies that may color the lens of observation. Working with someone who reminds you of a friend from the past, with whom the relationship has soured, may taint the way you are objective and may compromise the trust levels that are important for working on a great team.
Without a centered presence and self-awareness, all observation is filtered through the lens of response to past stimuli. Acknowledge the demons that cloud your observation and use them as allies instead of foes.
Questions to ask yourself and reflect on as you hone your skills as an observer:
If someone was observing you what would they think of you? What could you be triggering in them?
What makes you feel undermined? Who makes you feel undermined? How do you respond to that?
What kinds of people do you idealize? What aspect of their humanity are you ignoring when you put them on a pedestal?
Practice Makes Perfect
Observations start with understanding the person in front of the mirror and then the person next to you — learning to read immediate stakeholders. The study of individuals is of the utmost importance because it is individuals who form teams and organizations.
Observation in organizations can be done at the micro-level. To read a single individual is to understand power dynamics within groups, and then you can apply those skills to the macro-level — the larger organizational culture.
This multi-layer reading is a conscious act much like making connections — it requires you to pause and make an effort. This process is like a muscle and has to be consciously developed. It does not come naturally to most of us and, as with any learned skill, practice makes perfect.
If you would like to observe, start with listing attitude — the verbal and nonverbal "tells" of those around you when they are relaxed and at ease, and also when they are in discomfort or unease. This is a starter exercise you can practice for a couple of weeks until slowly you will see that you’re better at noticing the unsaid and reading between the lines of posture, expression and subtle shifts.
Context And Content
Human behavior cannot be taken out of context. For instance, a woman who is nervous at a job interview could be anxious about the interview or possibly about running into a current employer in the lobby.
Crossing arms may not always be a sign of a closed stance but rather could be a self-comforting and self-soothing gesture, and therefore the person could be indicating they are relaxed in your company. One should look at clusters of behaviors such as leadership style, personality traits, defense mechanism and verbal and non-verbal cues. Remember: No judgment is final.
Context is important for all of us, especially in global work cultures as we bring parts of our diverse nationality, faith, family values and personal experience together. Assumptions without context can be misleading.
The ways in which to better understand context is to widen your horizon and connect with those from different backgrounds, ensure others feel comfortable around you, look at the whole person and do your best not to judge others. Everyone has something wonderful to bring to the table if given a chance.
Everyone is either adding to your success or taking away from it. There are people who will steer us toward our true North and there are people who will not. Some will be true supporters in our growth and evolution, and others will ever so covertly sabotage our success.
Observing people will bring out your best, empathetic self and will also help you maneuver the power corridors of your career. Maya Angelou famously said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them," and you can do this by not merely seeing, but observing.
Link to the original article HERE