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How To Read People

A Simple Guide to Interpreting and Determining People’s Actions, Emotions, Thoughts, and Body Language

David is going to be a reoccurring character in my works.

Clarification: There is no one way or method to read any and every person you come in contact with; culture, upbringing, mental health, and many other environmental and internal factors will ultimately impact a person's’ experience and must be taken into account or at the very least considered while reading individuals and even groups.

With the clarification being stated, let us begin with the rules of reading:

1. All individuals and groups follow patterns.

Patterns usually are habits that have become doubly instinctual when not rectified, recognized, or quite honestly paid attention to by the individual or others. Such patterns are in our speech, physical responses, and thoughts. For psych buffs, you may know these as implicit behaviours. Examples of these behaviours are nail-biting as a symptom of anxiousness, foot tapping as a result of boredom, lack of eye contact out of shyness, shaking as a result and indicator of fury and/or fear (some things cannot be determined by use of one trait or behaviour), etc. 

2. Patterns do not inherently mean anything.

This may seem contradictory or confusing, though since humans are complex, contradicting, and confusing creatures, so are the subtleties to reading them. A rule about rules is they do not often account for rare or peculiar circumstances. When quickly reading someone of a general population or group, it’s easier to assume that any behaviour repeated within that group has a similar meaning. However, this can backfire heavily. Here’s a personal case:

“I was asked to determine why a friend's girlfriend was ignoring him. He was a simple man, about as simple you can get being someone growing up in the hypermasculine and conforming youth of urban Black America. His girlfriend was simple as were all her friends and many of those they associated with; having less than 30 minutes to determine the cause before intense conversation would’ve been stricken up, I’d determined she was likely cheating on him with someone deemed manlier. Sadly for him, he likely knew who it was. Fast forward some time, the two had broken up and she found a guy who followed the profile of manly: tall, dark, sociable, and a football player. Here’s the problem — I was intensely wrong. As it turns out, she wasn’t cheating. He was actually neglecting her and the stress led her to deem him a lost cause. I had vastly overestimated my ability at the time and likely fueled many arguments between the two, along with bad blood. Needless to say, I took this failure to realize that many behaviours aren’t always indicative of certain behaviours no matter how generic or easily-read you deem a group or a person in that group.”

Overestimating your skills and working on a lack of information are articles for another time, but as I have shown, working heavily on assumption as opposed to open-minded thinking can cause massive issues.

The next three steps are less so rules but expansions on the two previous rules as they are at the root of Reading.

Expect him, too.

3. People wear masks.

People aren’t as stupid as we tell ourselves they are. They’re usually aware, to some degree, of at least one of their habits, behaviours, or issues. If you’re reading someone to determine what’s wrong with them, be prepared to not only witness them hide their emotions but for you to make a personal or less-than indirect attempt at getting them to reveal themselves; breaking a mask is another conversation entirely so for the sake of this article, we’ll leave it at that.

4. Group Psychology is different from Individual Psychology.

If this is confusing to you, think of the dark but effective joke about Identifying Pedophiles (something everyone should actually learn to do). “Not everyone with a mustache is a Pedophile but every Pedophile has a mustache.” All individuals in a group act the same but not all groups act the same as their individuals.

5. Making Relevant Conclusions

To make a relevant conclusion, you can’t only recognize patterns, behaviours, masks, and what those things mean individually. You must analyze information in unison and in the context of each other. This process is mostly on the individual reading; you may use Inductive, Deductive, or Abductive reasoning. Another method that is usable but requires experimentation (a taboo topic in Reading and usually associated with Social Engineering) is the brilliant Scientific Method.

This article is part of a series of works on what could be considered Applied Psychoanalysis.