6 tips for how to read people effectively in business meetings

Reading people is important. If you can’t read a person effectively in a business meeting (or in any relationship for that matter), you are sacrificing your ability to positively communicate with them and form an effective bond. More importantly, if you aren’t reading someone effectively, you may not be aware if they are reading you. If you aren’t aware of how someone is reading you, you are at a disadvantage immediately.

Communicating involves 3 components and they are broken up below as to the weight they carry:

  • 7% is about the words.
  • 38% is about tonality – How words are used with tone.
  • 55% is body language.

Non verbal gestures are the most critical tell for when you are communicating with someone and vice versa.

In the words of the great Ralph Waldo Emerson..

”What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” 

Here are 6 ways to read a person effectively and therefore, also the communication you are having with them:

1) Eye movement

When you are communicating with someone, eye movement is the number one vantage point to be aware of. 

If someone is unable to make eye contact i.e. looking down or away, this is a sign that they are either hiding something, are shy or intimidated. 

If the eyes move up and out to the top left, this means a person is trying to remember something.

If the eyes move up to the top right, this means a person is constructing something. Many people associate this with lying. While this can be the case, looking up to the top right is a more of a sign that people are trying to visualise something. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are lying. They could be trying to produce an internal understanding of an idea or process, or picture how something you are telling them (or they are telling you) will work. Context is important.

Movement of the eyes to the bottom left means an internal dialogue. The person may be disagreeing or having a conflict of belief of what they are hearing. If you are giving a piece of advice and someone is looking to the bottom right, their belief system is being challenged and they are thinking about it. This isn’t always a bad thing. Navigating disagreements builds trust.

Movement of the eyes to the bottom right means someone is digging down into some deep feelings or emotions.

2) Distance 

Most of us understand personal space. It’s the invisible area of comfort surrounding an individual not to be invaded. Each individual person has their own measurement and above all, we must understand this.

Expanding on personal space however, if you are communicating with a person and they are leaning back and away from you, it means they are not interested or compelled by what they are hearing. If a person is leaning in closer as you speak, it means that they are engaged, responding positively and you are getting through to them.

Is someone making subtle physical contact with their arm or leg touching yours? This means they are comfortable with you. They’ve invited you into their personal space and feel comfortable enough to be in yours. Is someone patting you on the back or shoulder? This means they like and trust you.

3) Mirroring

If you are speaking with someone and you can see that they are mirroring your body language, it means they are trying to establish a bond with you. If you lean to right and the person you are communicating with leans to their left, they are mirroring you. If you are leaning your elbow on your left leg and they are leaning on their right, they are mirroring you. Clasped hands or or crossed legs can be mirrored. Leaning back or leaning forward can be mirrored.

You should try and mirror people when they are talking to you and look for people mirroring you when you are talking to them. Take note – this is a subtle dance, not a Wiggles sing along. Copying an intelligent person’s every gesture in a jerky and obvious manner will just look weird or like you are trying to con them. Mirror someone subtly and the trust you create with the individual will have them mirroring you back subconsciously.

4) Head movement and position

If you are communicating with someone and their head is up and their chin out, this signals arrogance. They are looking down their nose at you and hold a mindset of being above you.

If someone looks like they have no neck with their head contracting into the shoulders and tilted down, this signals that they are they are hiding something or are afraid of something.

If someone is tilting their head to one side it signals empathy for what you are saying. A tilt of the head with a smile is almost playful and a little flirty. Not necessarily a bad thing unless it’s the business owner’s wife or girlfriend. In this case, back off.

A tilt of the head from side to side is a person thinking along with you. Nodding in the middle of this motion is very encouraging.

5) Arm movement and position

Crossed arms are a sure fire sign that someone is protecting themselves. They are on the defensive and not convinced, shielding themselves from influence. If someone is more open, and gesturing, this signals much more positive engagement and a person is at ease.

If someone leans in and put their fingers on their chin, they are genuinely interested in what you are saying.  If they are putting a finger over their mouth, they are waiting for you to stop so they can object or reply.

If someone is rubbing their hands together, they are excited by what you are saying. If they are tinkering and tapping their fingers they are thinking and processing.

If a female is touching their hair, they may be flirting or into you (not always! Be classy!).

If someone is wringing their hands, they are nervous or anxious (Possibly something to keep an eye on if you misread a hair touch).

6) Leg movement and position

If someone’s leg is bouncing up and down. This is a nervous movement. It means they aren’t relaxed or comfortable. Not a good gesture for a client to be doing to you and certainly not an effective gesture if you are the one doing it. Don’t make yourself look jittery or out of your league.

If someones’ legs are pointing towards you, this is a good sign. It means that you are bonding well.

If their legs are pointed away from you it means they aren’t convinced or engaged. This can be rectified if early on in the meeting. If it continues for a long period of time, it’s time to wind things up. Your wasting their time and more importantly, yours.

Now for a subtle difference. If the person’s legs are pointing away and to the door/exit, it means that they want out of there! Don’t over react. Judge the situation. This may just mean the person has another meeting to get to and are running out of time. Again, time to wind things up, albeit not necessarily for negative reasons.

In conclusion

Learning to read people effectively in the business world will do one of two things – result in building great relationships or determine when there is no relationship to be had.

In either case, the outcome is positive. We get all sorts of positive energy and value from the the person we form a great relationship with. We save time, pain and heartache for both parties when we can see things just aren’t going to work out.

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