IT Employment

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.

36 comments
andy02041
andy02041

nice article. will keep in mind.

nlaguerre
nlaguerre

There are many people from other cultures where eye contact is not the norm. Why do Americans stress this so much- in Asian culture, West Indian culture... you dont hold eye contact when talking to people- as a matter of fact it is rude!

psd1941
psd1941

Except two things, the rest is quite misleading towards self deception. IS THERE ANY SCIENTIFIC PROOF about the author's views about (1) the signal of deception as the adults casually covering or touching their mouths with their fingers during a discussion; or (2) People who are lying may also touch their nose? These assumptions seem to be the author's self experienced notions about himself when he would have lied before others. It can however be understood about a fake smile or avoidance of eye contact. But even fake smile cannot long last as against the presumption of the author. The fake smiler himself would feel uncomfort in keeping intact her fake smiling pose for long. Moreover, the author himself is not sure about the periodicity of a fake smile, as he has indicated his presumption by using the word "probably." But what is the yardstick to recognize a fake smile? How many people are able to recognize a fake smile of the others? I can swear that even 90% of persons may not be able to identify a fake smile of the other fellow. Avoidance of eye contact of course can reasonably be noticed by any one. As such, the story may mislead several readers even about genuine people, who may be having some habit or problem with their mouth or nose. P S Dhingra Change Management Consultant

bamgboyeayo
bamgboyeayo

I think the writer is making a mistake here. Africans and some Assian countries dont look at the eye of peopple in authourity in the eye. This is a sign of respect.

gadjet
gadjet

I've found that many psyche's get into the field to figure out there own problems, NOT those of others. I already know I'm different, so is everyone else, I prefer to give everyone the benefit of believing until proved not. There is way too many variables in human nature to attempt a loose interpetation of traits. I've found if I'm relaxed during a conversation, the other person or people will be as well. There by preventing the need for the other party to feel apprehensive about talking about anything, the truth generally follows.

zaifmand
zaifmand

When most people play poker they watch the cards on the table as they come up but in reality you should watch the facial reactions. Same thing with people in the work force. Don't look at other things when they are talking such as screens or their hands. Look at their faces for any non verbal signs. Meaning for example if your boss tells you that you are a really good employee and they like to keep you part of a team yet looks away or taps the pen on the desk to show signs of nervousness you can probably tell they are not being truthful with you. Two good general links that might help are http://www.blifaloo.com/info/lies.php http://www.forbes.com/technology/2006/11/03/detecting-lies-trust-tech_06trust_cx_ee_1103lies.html?partner=rss There are also a bunch of good Poker books that teach players how to tell when other players are bluffing. I used some of those techniques at the professional employment level to be able to tell who in business is being truthful with me and who isn't.

$$$$$$$$$$
$$$$$$$$$$

Different cultural norms prescribe that eye contact as such -- if long enough to be noticeable, essentially -- is inherently confrontational. Obviously, Asian immigrants don't run around starting fights based on looking them in the eye, but it's something they're accustomed to considering rude to do, not rude to avoid. I've seen this in several articles, which all seemed like over-simplifications, so please don't forget the salt.

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

Instead of spending 25 years as a therapist - she ought to have spent 25+ years in heavy industry. Try reading peoples' faces when you're standing beside a Cameron Book Press - your only way of communication is by sign language and tapping your ear-defenders! I could sub-edit and rewrite most of this tome, for the better. ;)

FlynnT
FlynnT

Her views may be valid, but let's face it we touch our nose and/or mouth for dozens of innocent reasons--and we all know close acquaintances who avoid eye contact thru shyness etc. This is simply STUFF put together to sell a book!

albert
albert

- All shy people are liars. (Avoiding eye contact.) - All people who are subconscious about their dental work are liars. All people who had too much red onion for lunch are liars. (Covers their mouths.) - All people that simply enjoy your company are liars. Or, people who smile due to nervousness, fear, unease, or as a warning sign -- as in the primordial expression of aggression through the display of one's teeth -- are liars. (Smile lasting longer than 10 seconds.) - All people that have seasonal allergies are liars. All shy people that have an adrenaline rush in social situations -- even simple conversations -- are liars. (Touching or rubbing their noses.) The point I make is that human behavior is far, far from being so black and white. I pity those who have such a narrow perspective. I can see it being difficult for some to learn how to read people. I have an adult nephew that seems to have that difficulty. However, it takes much more than an overly simplistic checklist to learn how to read people. It takes a lifetime of practice and interaction. The problem with this checklist is the very real possibility of being wrong and having unintended consequences. Use this list very carefully.

normhaga
normhaga

The information contained in the links is overly simplistic. What do you do with the person that has been in the "Business" for years and has internalized covering of emotions. This throws all the assumptions presented out. Would not intuition be a better gauge than the simplistic ideas presented? The problem with intuition is that it can't be taught.

psd1941
psd1941

You have correctly pointed out. Some people don't try eye contact even as a mark of respect or sympathy. But this author can't understand that. In fact the article as a whole is quite misleading, as has been pointed out in my comments at serial 32 (You may probably like to read that). By following the misleading advice of the author, people may start doubting even genuine persons.

normhaga
normhaga

Eye contact is a product of cultural upbringing. I ran into one black man that was attempting to force a young girl into prostitution. Knowing that blacks generally consider eye contact to be aggressive, I forced eye contact until he said something and thus used the words he said to put him in the hospital, thus ending the girls plight. The point being, eye contact is cultural.

meryllogue
meryllogue

I suggest you get started. Don't be surprised when your fellow armchair experts and pissy pundits crawl all over it based on a very short review of some of the basic points. Heck, based on what I have read of your stuff, I doubt it will get to page one. Some folks would rather pee in everyone's Wheaties than actually engage in open-minded deliberations. Sorry Toni. I am with you on this one, and with the author.

drdenny2990
drdenny2990

Thank you, Locrian_Lyric, I am glad to see that there are two of us that read what she wrote and are able to get the idea what a tip is and to know that a few tips do not make a book. So many negative bodies walking around today, what a shame, I believe they are working hard to make life rough for those they work around or live with too. I didn't see anywhere that the author was trying to sell her book either, just giving out some valuable info to those wise enough to understand what she is saying. As a psychologist myself, she is right on the target for a few tips. I can see where her book would do a few people around here some good. Bye now, Dr. D

mjc5
mjc5

I think too many people here aren't seeing the forest for the trees. The body language clues are indeed very true. But they must be applied in context, and are not always infallible. To get a read on what someone is noverbally communicating to you, it takes knowing the person. You're not going to pick up a stranger in the street and "read" them. What happens is that you must pay attention to the persons regular habits, then after you know them well enough, you can tell if they are trying to deceive you. Yes, some people have allergies, or are shy. That isn't the point. And when someone is trying to think critically, they often gaze into space. Again, not the point. If someone keeps blowing their nose or staring into space while you explain something complex to them, that's just what they are doing. But it has been my experience that when dealing with a person that I know, and they touch their nose, the next sentence they speak will either be something they are very uncomfortable with saying, or innacurate. Same with people who heavily seek out eye contact. They are overcompensating, and trying to sell/con/ you. It's related to the old "Now I would never lie to you" ruse. You know that the next words will be a lie.

mindnova
mindnova

Makes me wonder, if the next book with be about how to undo the screw ups from the first book.

jerske
jerske

Very insightful Albert, additionally veracity is universal all people lie about something at sometime. Whenever someone says anything one could just "listen" and not try judging for truth. Actions will generally prove themselves to be the truth. Have a great week.

John Czerwonka
John Czerwonka

Many have pointed out that these "reads" may be inaccurate for some people who regularly commit these types of acts (rubbing nose, not holding eye contact, etc.) For these techniques to be effective, however, you first need to know what "typical behavior" is for the person you are attempting to read. Then you interpret the results accordingly. I would imagine the tips presented in this book have been presented only as rules of thumb to aid in interpreting body language and not hard and fast rules. It is likely that the author clarifies this in her book.

thejendra
thejendra

The folly of first impressions !!! www.thejendra.com

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I am black and white about most everything. I do not understand the human need to muddle things up to make them appear to be gray. I do not, however feel the checklist is overly simplistic. The author was quite clear that the list was NOT definitive and that there are other reasons. Heck, even one as clueless as I to human behavior can understand the difference between avoiding eye contact due to deceptiveness and discomfort.

mariecouser
mariecouser

Great job! My wife wanted to let you know, that you are VERY right about everything that you said. Too bad the author is not as intelligent or as insightful as you. She not only has allergies, but has a few dental problems and does exactly as you mentioned with her hand, in a attempt to hide her teeth and during allergy season. Once again, GREAT REPLY!

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

another point is of note, also. Given that 'one aspect of Asperger's Syndrome is an inability to read non-verbal signals in others', distinguishing between a real and a fake smile may be difficult. It is also worth noting, that condensing the contents of a book (or chapter from) into a short list such as this leaves out those specifics and considerations from the book that may well have been applied to the generalizations presented in the article.

Magic Alex
Magic Alex

"However, it takes much more than an overly simplistic checklist to learn how to read people." It certainly does, perhaps a whole book, perhaps even a whole book called - The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work -

levinson
levinson

Don't forget that people who are cross-eyed or have amblyopia are liars, too, since they appear to not maintain eye contact - unless you are looking at the eye that is looking at you, not the one that is looking away.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I'm terrible at reading people. Maybe it's common sense to the average person, but I am not the average person. I'll take any help I can get.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I just thought some of the book's observations were interesting and would be fodder for objective discussion, instead of an exercise in killing the messenger.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This is -very- brief summation of an entire book. Using it as the basis for an opinion of an entire book is ill-advised at best. I rarely make eye contact when I'm listening to someone else, especially if they are describing a technical issue. I find I can concentrate better if I'm not distracted by their face. Until now I never considered I may be missing some of the non-verbal cues under discussion. I'm not sure what I'll do about it, if anything.

webmaster
webmaster

Funnily enough, one group that don't do good eye contact are... Aspergers and ASD people! Also it can be a cultural thing, for instance, among many Pacific Islanders, what we call 'normal' eye contact they would consider rude at the least.

santeewelding
santeewelding

...a question of like or dislike, nor of you stopping. The matter is one of enticement, of welcome, of the wielder.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

But, if you do get hammered, don't drive. I'm not going to shut up and play in the corner. If you don't like what I post, don't read it.

santeewelding
santeewelding

You hammer this incessantly, drawing me more to the hammerer than to the hammered.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

As someone with AS, it is very very VERY hard for me to read people. People can lie to my face and I will believe them, even if everyone else can see through it. I also overstay my welcomes, butt in where I shouldn't and miss all those little social cues everyone else misses. You've got my praise, at least. Thank you. And to anyone who asks, YES, I do need a book. This will be at least the third: "How to win friends and influence people" "The seven habbits of highly successful people" were the first two. I benefitted greatly from them. Thank you for pointing out another resource.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

to come across as 'killing the messenger'. My apologies if I did.

meryllogue
meryllogue

I can't believe anyone would jump all over this book and make negative sweeping statements about it. Oh... never mind. This is a TR forum, where most of the posts are just rants. That's the biggest reason I delete most of the TR in my inbox (unread) anymore. I am so tired of the ranting, like the very first poster's reaction. On the other hand, Boxie and Palmetto, thank you for a reasoned reply. :-) (And no I will NOT be subscribing to this thread. I have no desire to read the senseless rantings of radical elements.)

StuMuir
StuMuir

I suffer Asperger's, and work in the IT industry. In meeting with a client, I struggle to hold eye contact, and suffer adrenal charges that often make my nose itch. Regular clients who choose my service know I am good mathematician, and get used to my strange body language. My greatest criticism is not that I embelish the truth, but that i am sometimes too blunt in my honesty. (I can't "speak between the lines" very well, so I tend not to try) I'd hate to think someone didn't listen to my advice because of this excerpt

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