How to Read People and Influence Perceptions
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Perceptive leaders craft messages that meet their target audiences’ needs. They understand which information will be filtered out, how messages become distorted and disregarded, and how information is assigned meaning.

In Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success (2009), management consultant Karl Albrecht explores how SI – “the ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you” – plays out in executive interactions. He suggests it’s “a combination of a basic understanding of people – a kind of strategic awareness – and a set of component skills for interacting successfully with them.”

Albrecht proposes five distinct dimensions that contribute to social competencies:

  1. Situational Awareness: A social radar used to read situations and interpret people’s behaviors in terms of possible intentions, emotional states and proclivity to interact.
  2. Presence: A range of verbal and nonverbal patterns, to include one’s appearance, posture, vocal quality and subtle movements – a collection of signals that others process into an evaluative impression.
  3. Authenticity: Others’ social radar, whose signals lead them to believe we are honest, open, ethical, trustworthy and well-intentioned – or not.
  4. Clarity: Our ability to explain ourselves, illuminate ideas, accurately pass data, and articulate our views and proposed actions – all of which enable others to cooperate with us.
  5. Empathy: A shared feeling between two people; a state of connectedness that creates the basis for positive interaction and collaboration.


We assign meaning to gestures, facial expressions and vocal intonations. But research shows we’re only 20 percent successful at reading body language.

Consider the many clues we may miss during critical negotiations or board presentations. Have you ever left a meeting wondering how you fared? If so, you likely focused intensely on your presentation and failed to observe and decode others’ communication signals.

You cannot interpret signals if you’re not seeing them. An inner focus prevents you from observing, hearing, filtering, asking questions and interpreting signs. You’re simply not taking advantage of all observable data.

The Invisible Iceberg

The stimuli we hear and see are merely the tip of a complex psychological iceberg. We know, with only one glance, when someone is upset. Many of us can walk into a meeting, instantly sense the tone and appropriately adjust our demeanor.

Why, then, can two people observe the same circumstances and draw completely different conclusions?

The brain filters incoming observations before it allows us to reach a conclusion. Common internal variables may alter this process:

  • Biases
  • Flawed assumptions
  • Memories
  • Urgencies
  • Agendas
  • Fears
  • Paranoia

“Truly advanced people-readers take this into consideration and strive to objectify their conclusions by factoring in the filters of their own world view,” writes communication consultant Harrison Monarth in Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO (McGraw-Hill, 2009).

Optimizing Outcomes

When mastering the art of people-reading, your ultimate goal is optimizing outcomes, not judging others.

In sales, this means understanding what prospects really need, their possible objections and tailoring your presentation accordingly. With your boss, it means avoiding potential hot buttons and predicting standards of successful performance. Selective timing and customized verbal and nonverbal messages are critical.

Each step requires the ability to read moods, sense levels of stress or distraction, and gauge openness and risk levels. Learn to say and do the right things, at the right time, with the right people.

The more you observe about others, while filtering out your internal biases, the more effective and empowered you’ll become at reading people and situations accurately.

The Influence of Context

Much of social dumbness comes from not paying attention to available clues. We fail to see them when we’re focused on crafting our best message and delivering it to successfully persuade others to our point of view.

All human interaction takes place in a context or a setting. Context creates meaning, and meaning shapes people’s behavior.

3 Context Dynamics to Observe

Watch for the following dimensions in any given situation:

  1. The Proxemic Context: The dynamics of the physical space in which people are interacting, the structures and positions within that space, and the way people’s behaviors are influenced by it. This includes the relative degree of physical proximity we tolerate; use of space as an aspect of culture; and differences in distance, contact and posture.
  2. The Behavioral Context: The patterns of action, emotions, motivation and intention that show up in human interactions.
  3. The Semantic Context: The patterns of language used in the discourse, which signal – overtly and covertly – the nature of the relationships, differences in status and social class, governing social codes, and the degree of understanding created (or prevented) by language habits.

Steps for Better People-Reading Skills

  1. Start using your senses instead of going through the day on autopilot. Sit in an airport, a restaurant or a mall and watch people. Try to figure out their relationships in couples or groups. Notice their moods, clothing and the ways they position themselves with others.
  2. Observe the spaces in which you find yourself. Who sits where in meetings? How are offices or work spaces laid out? How does this communicate status or authority?
  3. Listen for the various ways people use language to signal their social status and authority. How do people use slang, figures of speech, specialized vocabularies and clichés?
  4. Observe the nonverbal signals people use to define and reinforce their relationships. How does the boss convey approachability? How do others do this?

As your coach, I give you the tools to observe more about others, while filtering out your internal biases. I support you to be more effective and feel more empowered as you’ll become master in reading people and situations accurately.

Should you care, about developing your people reading skills? You should care. When mastering the art of people reading, your ultimate goal is optimizing outcomes, not judging others.

I have a few spots available for February coaching.

Call me right now.

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Call me today (949) 721-5732 to schedule a 30 minutes consultation.

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Moty Koppes














Moty Koppes is a certified master coach providing you with personal development, life coaching, relationship coaching, communication skills, personal power, life balance, career coaching, productivity enhancement, executive coaching and stress reduction in Newport Beach, Orange County, Southern California.