Nicolle Lowrey

A Guide to Reading the Room and Knowing What People Think About You

As analytical people, we love to study what other people are doing. However, when we perceive that behavior is a direct reflection of our actions, we tend to overthink or misconstrue what we know about human behavior. It is important not to doubt our instincts. We have spent years honing our ability to read people. Now its time to take advantage of our instincts.

Why do we overthink or misconstrue people’s behaviors when it relates to us? The main reasons we overanalyze is because we are worried about what people are thinking about us. As a result, we become hyper-focused on every verbal or non-verbal cue that a person communicates and attribute it to ourselves.

“Why is he looking at me like that? He’s angry with me. I shouldn’t have said anything about that type of vehicle. Maybe he drives one.”

“Is my boss mad at me? She closed her eyes when I was talking.”

When we are being overly sensitive, how do we behave? We freeze up or we ramble on about irrelevant things. We’ve all been there. Right?

However, if we were not being overly sensitive and attributing all behavior to us, we can realize that some of the cues being read are the result of other factors in the room. Once we can properly identify where the verbal and non-verbal cues are being directed, we can use the information to our advantage. As a result, we can change the course and dynamics of the room.

When a dinner conversation turns awkward, how do we know? We read non-verbal and verbal cues. We pay attention to what people are saying and doing. If we aren’t focused on what horrible thing that we did to cause the facial expression and not be able to focus on the next step to take, we can turn the conversation in a different direction.

Let’s explore some different non-verbal cues that will help us read the room and know what people are thinking. Once we know what people are thinking, we can learn how to take advantage of the information.

Cue One: Worried

When someone is worried or anxious, they will present non-verbal cues of a wrinkled brow, arms closed as protection, not participating in the conversation or talking non-stop on irrelevant topics.

Our first instinct might be for our face to flush and our pulse to elevate. Obviously, we said something to make the conversation awkward. Instead, we need to stay calm and feel empathetic towards the person. It is okay that they feel anxious; especially if the topic has implications for their future or they don’t know where we’re going with the topic. A great way to ease someone’s worry is to take time to explain the situation in a soothing manner.

Cue Two: Confusion

When someone is confused, they display non-verbal cues such as responses that are out of left field, dazed expressions, eyes squinted, or one eyebrow raised in question. When someone gets confused at what we’re trying to explain, we personalize.

“I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve got to stop speaking or look more incompetent.”

Then, we make a quick exit. A better option is to say,

“I’m feeling a little confused. How about you? Let me explain things a little better.”

This normalizes the confusion and relieves any stress that we or the other person may be feeling. At this point, we should try a different approach to explain what we are talking about in a way that the person can relate to.

Cue Three: Anger

An angry person presents with glaring eyes, gritted teeth, flared nostrils, rubbing of the forehead, or slamming things on tables or desks. Depending on our experiences these non-verbal’s may make us defensive or submissive. Neither is an effective response. If this is a work situation and people are upset over a past discussion, it is important to get everyone to focus on the present. Or, to take a few moments and focus on another topic. This allows everyone a few moments to focus on another topic, so everyone can regain their composure. If this is at a social event, then taking a breather might be the best decision. It may be best to excuse ourselves and walk away. Whatever the situation is, we need to remain calm and hold an even tone.

Cue Four: Interest

What we’ve all been waiting for, someone who is engaged and interested in the conversation at hand. A person who is interested will be smiling, leaning in, making frequent eye contact, open arms, and looking directly at us with their chin up. We need to encourage this behavior with continued positive interaction. Enjoy the interaction and keep it moving if possible.

Cue Five: Understanding Who’s Present in the Room

Lastly, to better understand the non-verbal and verbal interactions in the room, it is important to understand the relationships of the people at the event. If we’re at a work event, it is good to know who the supervisors are and who are the subordinates.

When the higher-ups walk in the room, people may behave differently. Some people may straighten up their behavior and some may “shine” to impress the bosses. On the other hand, people who have lower status may present as deferring to others. They may agree to whatever is being said, not speak up and share opinions, or try to blend into the woodwork.

At a social event, we may have individuals in the room that have previously dated, are dating, friends, frenemies, or competitors. By being aware of these relationships, we can better read the social cues that we encounter. There may be strained relationships that we want to avoid or conversations that we might not want to have in that setting. The more we know about the participants, the more successful our social interactions will be. Furthermore, having this awareness will make it easier to not attribute people’s social cues to us and to realize that there are other dynamics in play.

What do you think of my recommendations? Do you think they will help you read the room and impact your social interactions? When you think back to a time you were successful at reading a room, were you following these steps? I look forward to hearing your comments below!

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