id="info"

Tech & Work

Can't read people very well? Here are some tips

The ability to read nonverbal communication is a great career tool. Unfortunately, not everyone has that ability. A new book may give you some insight into what people are saying when they're not saying anything.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how many people in IT have Asperger's Syndrome. One aspect of that autism spectrum disorder is the inability to read nonverbal signals in others. This can be a detriment in relationships with people, particularly with co-workers.

In the working world, you're going to run across some disingenuous people, some purposefully so because it's to their advantage to be that way. Sometimes, however, people aren't particularly honest in their communications because they're afraid of hurting feelings. These people are convinced that if the person they're addressing is intuitive enough, he or she can read between the lines.

This is a dangerous way of thinking, particularly if you're a manager and your employees depend on your honest feedback.

So if you don't have that intuitiveness or innate ability to "read" people, what do you do? A new book by Carol Kinsey Goman, The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work, might offer some insight. In the book, Goman, who is president of Kinsey Consulting Services in Berkeley, California, combines the latest discoveries in a half-dozen academic fields with her 25 years as a therapist and offers some tips on how to figure out what people are saying when they're not speaking.

Here are a few of her more interesting observations:

  • A fake smile is one of the most common expressions used to mask other emotions — especially if it lasts too long. Goman says that research has borne out that expressions that last between five and 10 seconds are probably false.
  • Another signal of deception is when adults casually cover or touch their mouths with their fingers during a discussion. She says, "People who are lying may also touch their nose because the rush of adrenaline opens the capillaries and it itches. Watch closely and you'll notice that when someone is about to lie or make an outrageous statement, he'll often unconsciously rub his nose."
  • Liars avoid eye contact. We all pretty much know that, but Goman says that people who are really good liars will often over-compensate and hold eye contact for too long. Lying is not the only reason people avoid eye contact, though. Goman says they also do it when discussing "something intimate or difficult, when they're not interested in the other person's reactions, when they don't like the other person, when they are insecure or shy and when they are ashamed, embarrassed, depressed or sad."

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

Editor's Picks