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Five Proven Steps to Reading People

by | Apr 24, 2013 | Communication, In the Workplace

Five Proven Steps to Reading People

If you want to be able to accurately read someone, you need to make the person feel comfortable with you first. When someone is comfortable with you, he or she will be more relaxed and open. The following step-by-step process gives you a basic framework for learning how to create these circumstances that will give you the ability to more accurately read what someone is really saying.

Step 1—Building Rapport

Ask any investigator how they extract information from a suspect. What they will tell you is that it all begins with rapport building. When you meet someone, never come right out and get to the point. If you do, you will kill the rapport-building stage. When you jump right in, it becomes your agenda, not theirs. When a skilled investigator interviews a suspect, they never begin with saying “You’re a liar; I know you did it!” That tactic is only seen in the movies, and it rarely works. For better results, slow things down. Talk about neutral topics—the bad coffee in the cafeteria, sports, fashion, the weather. show interest in them as a person, not just a prospect or perpetrator. Casually observe the person’s attire. A compliment on a watch, lapel pin, piece of jewelry, or piece of fashionable clothing often helps ease the initial anxiety. An easy and quick way to establish rapport is to address a person by their name. This demonstrates that you are interested in the person and care about what they have to say. But use the name sparingly, as over usage may be viewed as disingenuous and phony. Rapport building is the essence of a positive outcome. It’s not only used in law enforcement to catch the bad guys, but in every aspect of human communication, whether it’s sales prospecting, coaching, training, management, or dating.

Step 2—Mirroring

A natural mirroring of body language occurs when two people connect on a cellular level. When there’s a connection, the two synchronize their body language like a choreographed dance. It is unexplained, yet it is seen throughout nature. Penguins follow in a single file line; birds fly in patterns; and fish swim in unison. Couples who like each other tend to match the body language of their partner. For example, when one leans forward to reach for a glass, the other, without thinking, will do the same thing. Some couples even unconsciously synchronize what they wear. When building rapport, you should always mirror some aspect of the other’s behavior.
The five ways to mirror someone are …

  • Adopting (loosely) the mannerisms of the person you’re trying to mirror
  • Synchronizing your breathing with theirs.
  • Matching voice tone and inflection.
  • Empathizing—meeting energy with energy and concern with concern.
  • Echoing key words and speaking at a common level

Step 3—Norming

Norming is a process of assessing another’s normal behavior patterns during rapport building.
Norming is the process of observing behaviors during rapport building. As you talk about those neutral topics, mentally take note of the interviewee’s normal speech and voice patterns, gestures, and language. For example, if, in the person’s norm, you see any signs of facial tics, speech errors, or anxiousness, these could be quirks in their normal behavior and should not be interpreted out of context as anything unusual. Your goal is to get the individual as close to normal behavior patterns as possible. You won’t know a person’s absolute norm unless you have an intimate personal relationship with that person.

Step 4—Baselining

Typical behaviors observed during the norming stage become the “baseline” from which we compare and contrast behavior patterns. Although it is possible to establish a good baseline, even in a tense situation, establishing rapport is especially important to alleviate anxiety that might otherwise alter normal behavior
Immigration officers have to be especially skilled at speed-reading complete strangers and putting them at ease, because they have five minutes or less to determine whether or not to allow them to enter the country. Actual questions from an immigration screening are likely to start with nonthreatening inquiries, such as: “Did you find a good parking spot?” or, “Boy, it looks like you’re ready for a great family vacation, with all those bags.” During the norming period, officers establish a baseline by reading facial expressions, body language, voice, and words, before moving on to more pointed questions, such as: “What is the purpose of your visit?” and “What preparations have you made prior to coming to the United States?”

Step 5—Comparing and Contrasting Behaviors

Once you’ve established a baseline, you can move into more direct questioning. As the questions become more pointed, look for changes in the subject’s behavior. These changes are usually subtle—twitches, twinges, and muscle contractions. These are signs of leakage or contrasting behaviors that might indicate deception, anxiety, or concern.