How to Read a Person Like a Book: Observing Body Language To Know What People Are Thinking

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Conversation with Nierenberg

People-watching always proves to be a fascinating diversion. You’ve probably done it from time to time at the mall, at the grocery store, in meetings, during social gatherings, at sporting events, and so on. And if you’re like us, you’ve probably found yourself wondering what someone was thinking—what the story was behind a certain action or decision.

You probably know the “faces” people make or the way they tilt their heads, for instance, suggest certain thoughts or feelings. What people convey with their bodies, regardless of whether or not any words are said, speaks volumes about their intentions and emotions. And if words are spoken, knowing what a person is communicating via body language can, in many cases, help affirm or contradict what you are hearing.

Being aware of the emotions and intentions behind certain mannerisms can help you in all areas of your life.

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The more you practice “reading people like a book”, the more you’ll understand what makes them tick. With this deeper understanding, you’ll be able to deal more effectively with people on a professional, personal and casual level.

By reading this book, you’ll learn how to train yourself to pay attention to the nonverbal language going on all around you. You’ll begin to “listen” with your eyes, watching carefully for the words, sentences, and paragraphs people write with their gestures and expressions. In Chapter 1, you’ll train yourself to become a keen observer of people. Then, in Chapter 2, you’ll come face to face with expressions people make and the meanings behind them. The rest of the body plays as much of a role in nonverbal communication as the face, so in Chapter 3, you’ll learn the individual meanings of body gestures.

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You know that individual words do not convey a complete thought; even a sentence leaves many things unsaid. In much the same way, expressions and body gestures need to be strung together to provide a more complete picture of someone’s feelings or intentions. Therefore, Chapter 4 examines various attitudes along with gesture clusters that are common to them. Finally, Chapter 5 takes a look at body language and relationships. In that important chapter, you’ll see how the gestures you’ve already learned about may surface in interactions with your child, your romantic partner, your staff, and other significant people in your life, and you’ll discover how you can employ your own body language to enhance these relationships.

You can learn a lot by reading body language, but please take this brief warning to heart: It’s easy to believe that you have a good grasp of nonverbal communication after just a bit of exposure, but it’s a mistake to become complacent. Be careful not to jump to

conclusions based on some light reading and practice.

Gaining a deeper understanding of people through studying their behaviours should be a life-long learning experience, so don’t try to figure everything out all at once. Instead, focus on something new each day, or even each week, depending on the complexity of the behaviour or person. Indeed, each hour you spend consciously observing body language in merely a small step up the long staircase of knowledge. Always keep in mind that “reading a person like a book” is an observational art, not an exact science. There are many variables and interpretations to take into account, so be observant, know your material as well as your subjects, and allow room for surprises!

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