I'm sure that you read the title of this week's post and thought "I'd like to know how to do that!"
The answer is pretty straight forward - It's easy. Just pay attention to what they've already told you!
In most instances, people have already communicated to you what they are thinking - you just have to become conversant with a different language in order to comprehend their meaning.
I went to lunch the other day with my brother. In case you are curious, we went to Five Guys Burgers, which offers the most splendid burger it has ever been my pleasure to ingest (Five Guys corporate representative, feel free to take notice of this plug and send some delicious burgers my way)!
While we ate, I spotted a couple sitting together. I wouldn't have paid any attention to them, but I noticed that the man (who was in military uniform) had both of his feet locked securely behind the front legs of the chair.
This was a classic 'freeze' pose, initiated by the body's Limbic system in response to an uncomfortable situation. He was effectively like a mouse trying to freeze and hope that a larger, potentially dangerous predator didn't notice him.
This appeared to me to be completely at variance with the rest of the display put on by his upper body, as he was gesticulating and talking in what appeared to be a relatively comfortable fashion. So I began to pay closer attention.
I noticed that the young lady across from him smiled frequently, and would often run her fingers through her hair. However, when the man she was with got up to get the food, she rubbed her palms across her legs a few times. In addition to this, she had crossed her legs, blocking her body from his.
Running her hands through her hair was obvious grooming behavior and indicated attraction, but rubbing her palms on her legs was pacifying behavior. She was nervous. Her legs also indicated that she wasn't sure that she was comfortable with the man across from her.
A moment later, the gentleman returned with their food, and I continued my observations. I was surprised to see his feet immediately return to their prior locked position under the chair. My earlier observation was not a fluke - despite his confident display, he was definitely ill at ease.
However, as they talked, things gradually improved. She uncrossed her legs, instead resting one foot on its heel, toes to the sky. This signified that she was enjoying what she was hearing. On his part, he slowly but certainly moved his drink along the table toward her, metaphorically trying to become closer to her.
I weighed the data and decided that they must be on a first date. They each displayed signs of pacifying behavior, but each displayed signs of attraction. I mentioned this to my brother, whose response was "Go ask them."
I hesitated, not wanting to interrupt them, but in the end decided that I would.
I approached and introduced myself, explaining that I had been observing their various body language cues. I asked if they would be kind enough to verify if my conclusions were correct. They were good enough to participate.
I then went through what I had seen, along with the interpretation of each action, and they agreed with the accuracy of my analysis. They were indeed on a first date, and each admitted to being attracted to the other while being nervous to some degree.
It was a fun experience, and I was able to take my leave, confident that my actions also served to break the ice between them, allowing each to address the elephant in the room.
I'm sure that if I had stuck around, I would have witnessed more comfortable body language displayed by the pair.
Now, I know what you're thinking - Limbic System? Pacifying Behaviour? Grooming displays?? What on Earth are you on about Atlas?!
Well, I'll tell you.
As much fun as the books on eMentalism are, there are others out there that are equally worthy of your attention. In fact, some of the best books you can look at (in my opinion) concern body language. I've read plenty, and you can take it from me that the best, especially for a beginner, is Joe Navarro's "What Every Body is Saying". It deftly explains not only how to read body language, but WHY our body language is so consistently telling.
Believe me when I tell you that the above experience wasn't an isolated incident. I'll share another anecdote:
A few months back, after one of my shows, I had been approached by a group of people, each eager to ask me questions.
One of those in the group was a young lady, and inevitably the question she posed was along the lines of "How did you do (such and such)". I explained to her that much of what I read from her had its basis in body language. If she was skeptical of my answer initially, the disbelief evaporated a moment later, as I had a wonderful opportunity to provide her with an impromptu demonstration of the ability to read body language to discern thoughts.
As the young lady had entered the room, I noticed that she had been accompanied by a friend. This friend had remained in the same spot at the back of the group despite the fact that her more inquisitive counterpart had pushed closer to me. I also paid close attention to the positioning of the torsos of this pair. Both were fully facing me, but an examination of the feet told a story all their own. The young lady who was quizzing me had both her feet pointing directly at me, while her friend, positioned a yard or so to the rear, had one foot pointed at me, and the other at the door.
The proximity and foot cues of each party allowed me to infer details of what was going on in the mind of each of these two people. When pressed for an example, therefore, of my assertions that I could read body language, I smiled and spoke to the young lady in front of me:
"Well, for instance, I can tell by your strong eye contact, the full exposure of your torso, and the placement of your feet that you are genuinely intrigued with your interaction with me, and could continue chatting with me for some time. By contrast, your friend, in the green shirt... (at this point, I gestured toward the young lady in the back) your friend is interested in what we are saying, but has more pressing matters to attend to and is anxious to leave. She is, however, too polite to hurry you along. As she has been kind enough to offer you a lift, I believe you ought to get going."
There were about a dozen people circled around me at this point, yet no face was more astounded than that of the young lady in the green shirt, as she confirmed that she was indeed offering her friend a ride and was in a hurry to get somewhere.
As the example above illustrates, I can say honestly that a knowledge of body language can genuinely create acts of apparent mind reading - when, in fact, all you have done is paid attention to what a person is subconsciously telling the world. A bit of logic helps you connect the dots.
Consider the above example:
- The pair came in together.
- One of them split off and came closer, while the other stayed behind.
- The body language of the distant person was detached and their feet (always a great indicator of intent) faced the exit.
It was evident to me that the girl in the back wished to leave - the question then became "Why didn't she?"
It wasn't a great leap of logic to then assume that she was waiting for her friend to finish speaking to me. But why would she wait? Obviously they were carpooling together, but how did I know that the young lady who was questioning me was not the driver? The answer lay in one small detail that I did not explicitly point out in the narrative above - that the girl in the back had a purse, while the one in front of me had nothing on her. I guessed (correctly) that the girl with the purse used it to carry around her keys and that her friend (with no accessories) did not need to worry about such things.
Remember, watch carefully, listen closely, and you can discern more about those around you than you would have ever believed possible!
Now, while Joe's book is very informative, it lays a groundwork which you should build upon. If you are interested, follow up with "The Definitive Book of Body Language" by Barbara and Allan Pease. This will expand your knowledge of body language displays dramatically.
Why read these books?
If it isn't your style, don't invest the time. But if you are looking for a way to gain a better understanding of what goes on behind the eyes of the people around you, these two recommendations are a great place to start.