Reading People

How to understand people and predict their behavior. gives you the skills you need to reap the benefits from a lifetime of razor-sharp insight and make swift, sound decisions, whether your focus is family or career, marriage of friendship, professional success or romance.


We can learn a great deal about reading people by analyzing the techniques gifted storytellers use to develop a character and bring him or her to life. Think about how the creators of Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast transformed the Beast into a sympathetic hero. A huge brute with fangs and thick fur is frightening, not sympathetic. But the filmmakers found ways to make the audience see that there was more to the Beast than first meets the eye. First they dressed him in princely clothing, a clear sign this is no ordinary monster. Then they used body language to reveal additional aspects of his human character.

To this they added dialogue and actions which imply that the Beast may be a sheep in wolf's clothing. The central clue to the creature's real identity comes from an outside source, the narrator, who explains that the Beast is really a prince who has been transformed as a punishment for his uncaring actions years earlier.

By the movie's climax, the pattern is complete. The audience sees not a Beast but the kindhearted hero who lives within. The gradual revelation of the Beast's true character, layer by layer, is what makes the movie a masterpiece. The audience doesn't have to work to develop the pattern that reveals the Beast's nature. The writers and animators make it unfold before our eyes. But in real life, we have to search for the pattern of traits that divulges each person's character.

Discovering a predictable pattern is more than just gathering information by following steps A, B, and C. Once you have all the available information, you must sift through it and weigh it until finally you can step back and look at the whole person. It's not unlike the process a physician goes through when trying to diagnose an ailment. If you come into the office with a painful wrist, he might ask to see how much you can move it. He'll probably feel it and manipulate it himself; ask what recent activities might have hurt it; and then take an X ray. Each of these diagnostic techniques provides a different piece of information and each individual piece of information could mean many different things. But when all are considered as a whole, he is able to make an accurate diagnosis.

In the same way, you should look at as many different clues as possible when you evaluate someone. Which ones are most influential depends on the circumstances and on what you need from the relationship. If I'm hiring someone to tile my patio, my needs are simple and clear-cut: he should be good at his craft, honest, and reliable. I don't have to spend hours contemplating whether he'll be good with children. But if I'm deciding whether to enter into an intimate relationship with someone, I should put a lot more energy into determining what my needs are and carefully consider all the information available about the man.