The Joy of People-Watching

I love watching other people. From time to time, I like to sit in a cafe or a bar and make up stories about people based purely on their body language. I am not being a weird, I am practicing my ability to empathise with people because learning how to read people is a great skill for leaders.

We all read body language. It is hard-wired into our brains because body language pre-dates spoken language by millenia. Mammals, birds, fish, they all communicate by body language. It is the default setting for us.

The problem is that we tend to over-think things and doubt ourselves. However, we can do it. We know when a colleague is in a bad mood, or when they are happy. But there is so much more we can do if we start to pay attention.

Take time to notice others

First, watch people. Look around your office and work out who is in a good mood, who is looking a bit fraught. Try and work out if there is a change from yesterday. Look at how they interact with others. Look at how they hold themselves, whether they lean in to speak or stay aloof.

Second, in your next one-to-one meeting, ask questions and listen. Watch what the other person does with their hands, whether they lean forward or back, watch their face. Listen to their words but also listen to their bodies. As you settle into the meeting, check how you respond to their body cues, whether you start to mirror their movements to show you are in tune with each other.

Or sit in a bar and watch people, watch their interactions, decide how warm the relationship is. Are they equals and sharing time with each other, or is one more dominant, taking over the conversation, imposing their opinions. Do people wait for the others to finish talking before they speak, or do they reflect on what is being said. How do they use their hands, as an expressive tool to accentuate what they say or as a form of defence – a barrier ready to be erected.

Try not to make judgements, just watch and then think about what you saw later.

Practice this often, become more aware of other people around you and their body language. It will really help you engage with people around you at a deeper level and it will allow you to lead them more effectively.

Background Reading

I remember reading “The Definite Book of Body Language” by Allan and Barbara Pease and finding so many little tips that allowed me to understand those around me in a little more detail.

So, if you want to learn a little more about how people interact and learn to read them a little better, try practicing and take the time to enjoy watching people.