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How to Get Better at Reading People and Boost Your Influence

Sometimes, you just don’t get it. Human beings can be so complicated to deal with! It’s exhausting.

You don’t understand why you can’t get your point across. You don’t know what triggered this emotional outburst from your boss. You are frustrated.

Yet, you admire those colleagues of yours who seem to naturally win people over. Who manage conflicts — or, even better, avoid conflicts altogether. What’s their secret?

Here’s the good news.

They have a natural talent. And so do you.

In fact, you can increase significantly your persuasion potential if you understand how your brain works and if you decide to make the most out of it.

Your brain has a secret power that you might be ignoring

We tend to think of our brain mostly in terms of its rational abilities. In fact, we are taught from an early age to gather data, analyze it, and draw a logical conclusion.

That’s called rational thinking. It is great, useful, indispensable.

However, don’t be fooled. As we go about our daily activities, it is not the rational process of our brain that is at the forefront.

It is the intuitive process of our brain.

As neuroscience explains, the brain has the innate capacity to draw from our experiences, and by analogy and association, spontaneously jump to a conclusion. And this conclusion is expressed as an emotion.

In fact, intuition can help you in many aspects of your life, such as decision-making, and creativity. It is also an essential element of your emotional intelligence. It is the ability necessary to detect others’ state of minds, and emotional states.

As an example, when you meet someone for the very first time, you spontaneously form an opinion about this person. You feel you like him or not, that you trust him or not. This conclusion comes automatically to your awareness. That’s your intuition coming into play.

Be aware of your persuasion power’s worst enemy

Rational thinking requires a lot of effort on your part, and loads of attention. Yet, your brain has limited attention capacity. How easy is it to focus on two things at the same time? It’s tough, right? Almost impossible.

Intuitive thinking, on the contrary, requires no conscious effort from you. However, you must pay attention to your feelings to be aware of your intuitions.

If your brain is too busy thinking rationally, you then miss out on important information about yourself … and about others. The consequence: your power of persuasion suffers greatly.

Imagine, for example, that you go to a meeting to present your position on a topic that is particularly important to you. If all your attention is drawn to the next point you want to make, chances are that you have no residual attention to monitor your intuitions about other people’s state of mind. And if you don’t understand where they stand, you are not adapting your behaviours nor your arguments. And thus, it will be very hard for you to win them over.

Those who are good at influencing people are either naturally prone, or have developed over time, a sufficient level of attention to observe others, no matter what.

If it is not your case already, you might consider the next section.

How to hone your intuitive skills

Intuitions are a natural by-product of your brain. They emerge, whether you are conscious of them or not. You don’t need to learn how to be intuitive. It’s an innate talent that you possess.

However, you may need to focus on increasing your attention to the intuitions that arise.

And actually, that’s quite easy to do. You only need to practice.

First, observe people when you are attending a meeting that is not critical to you. If you are not actively involved, and the stakes are not high for you, it will be easier to relax, and simply observe the people in the room. What are you noting? How do you feel? What do you spontaneously think of this person’s state of mind? Of the energy in the room?

This is really about being totally present in the moment. Focus your attention to what is going on at a given moment, instead of being totally absorbed by your own thought process — or your mobile, for that matter.

Do this as often as possible as you go about your daily activities. Your capacity of attention will increase.

Extra tips:

  • The more relaxed you are, the higher the probability that you will be in the moment. If you are highly stressed, your thought process could be overwhelming, cutting you from meaningful insights.
  • Journal your experience, describing your findings. What difference did it make to be in the moment? What have you learned that you might have missed otherwise?
  • If possible, validate your intuitions after the meeting. Compare notes with a colleague, or ask someone you know to confirm what you perceived about them (You seemed anxious at this point, am I correct? You were not convinced by this, were you?). This will help you measure how well you are doing.

The more you practice, the more you will notice that observing your intuitions about others becomes more and more natural and frequent. As you make progress, test your ability to pay attention in more demanding context.

Let’s say you are presenting a recommendation for approval. You are at the forefront. Monitor how you feel about other people’s emotional state as the meeting unfolds. Notice if someone opens up or, on the contrary, demonstrates resistance to your ideas.

And adjust your presentation accordingly.

Extra tip:

  • Don’t make assumptions about the intent behind the emotional state you detect. Someone may appear distracted, but you may be wrong about the fact that they are not interested in your proposal. They could be preoccupied by something you are not aware of, such as a sick kid. Instead, and if appropriate, ask a question to validate your perception. For example, is this the right time for us to have this discussion?
  • Journal your progress. Has paying attention to others helped you to convince them?

Amaze people with your newfound capacity to read them

Imagine that, with practice, your level of attention has radically improved.

You are suddenly aware of people’s emotional state. Maybe human beings are not so difficult to figure out, after all.

With this kind of insight, imagine you can easily adapt your behaviour and your speech to communicate more efficiently.

You realize suddenly that you can influence people and win them over. You have a newfound trust that you can defuse arising conflicts and emotional crisis.

And you discover that you are just as naturally talented, after all, as those colleagues you admire.

And all it took was to pay a little more attention.

References:

The above article is based on the research I performed for my Master’s thesis (2017). The full bibliography includes over 100 articles and books, of which:

RIGGIO, R.E., RYAN, K. M., Social Skills Training Guide: A Resource Guide for Social Skill Training and Development, Menlo Park, Mind Garden Inc., 2011

 

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