10 Techniques to Read People in the Workplace

That prospect you’re thinking of hiring has almost certainly fudged some details on her resume, Larry from accounting says he gets along with everyone on the team fine, but you have an inkling there is some tension between him and Bill.

When running a small business, there are numerous occassions when being able to read people and detect dishonesty will be valuable, such as:

  • Hiring
  • Negotiating contracts or other agreements
  • Handling personnel disputes
  • Observing employee morale

Learning the Language

You will need to learn a new language, although the term “new” here is a bit inaccurate.

That language is body language and while reading it may be new to you, speaking it certainly won’t be. That’s because every single person, whether they are aware of it or not, speaks volumes with the movements they make, both voluntarily and involuntarily.

When people are feeling a certain way, the things they do with their body almost always reveal that.

Clusters to Watch For

Deception detection specialist Pam Meyer says we’re lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times per day. These are her tips for spotting someone who is potentially being dishonest. One of these actions by itself doesn’t tell you anything, but if you see a cluster of these (sometimes counterintuitive) behaviors happening together, it should be a red flag.

Someone Tensing their Upper Body

Although many people tend to think of people fidgeting a lot when they lie, it’s actually more common for someone to become particularly tense in the upper body when being deceptive.

Too Much Direct Eye Contact

People who are telling you a lie have heard all of the same things you have about how people act when they lie, including the old myth that people who are lying tend not to make eye contact. Because of this old myth, people who are lying to you will often try to counter this by looking at you a little too much.

They Do Not Smile with their Eyes

People can usually tell when they see a fake smile. You know there’s just something not right about it, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Most likely what you’re seeing when you detect a fake smile is that a person is only using their mouth to smile instead of actually smiling. You can voluntarily contract the muscles around your mouth to make it seem like you’re smiling, but you cannot voluntarily contract the muscles around your eyes. When someone has a genuine smile, you will be able to see the “crow’s feet” around their eyes.

Slight Shrugs

Not an easy one to spot, but if someone is trying to deceive you while telling a story, they might shrug their shoulders ever so slightly.

Head Shake

A person’s body will sometimes try and tell the truth even if they don’t want to. If someone is saying “yes,” but they really mean “no,” they might just slightly shake their head. And if they say “no,” but they mean “yes,” they might just slightly nod their head.

Leaking Honest Facial Expressions

Meyer says people who are lying will try to maintain the facial expression that fits with their lie, but this is often quite difficult to do for a sustained period.

For example, if someone is trying to convince you they’re sad, they’ll most likely let a different facial expression “leak” through their facade of sadness like a smile or a frown that conveys how they’re really feeling.

The easiest leaked expression to detect, according to Meyer, is contempt and that’s because it is accompanied by a sneer, which is the only asymmetrical facial expression. One corner of the person’s upper lip will pull upwards and inwards. If someone is contemptuous of you, it means they no longer see you as being on equal footing as them. That person has effectively put themselves above you.

Blink Rate

Whether a person’s blinking speeds up or slows down, if they’re being dishonest, they will usually change the rate at which they blink.

Feet

Since people use their feet to get places, they will often point their feet in the direction of where they want to go. If someone has their feet pointed toward an exit, that may mean they want to end the conversation and get away. Even if they aren’t pointing them toward an exit, if the person has their feet pointed away from you, they may be looking to get away from you.

Duping Delight

This one can be quite easy to spot. When people believe they are successfully telling a lie and getting away with it, they’ll sometimes take such delight in their own perceived cleverness that they will smile regardless of the situation.

A smile that materializes on someone’s face at a seemingly inappropriate time could be this so-called duping delight.

Barriers

People who are lying to you will sometimes try to place something in between you and them to create a physical barrier between the two of you. This could be them walking behind a table or desk. If they don’t have anything they can use to create this barrier, they will cross their arms.

As mentioned earlier, one of these movements by itself will not tell you anything, but if you see a cluster of them together, it could be telling you something. It also helps greatly if you know the person you are talking to well. The less you know a person, the more difficult it is to read their body language. And, lastly, you also must pay attention to the general surroundings. A person crossing their arms might just be an indication they are cold.

Recognizing some very basic body language will not only help you spot who might be trying to deceive you, but also help you be a better observer in your working environment and ultimately a better leader.

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