Monday, January 12, 2009

Reading People

This article was published in the Philippine Star, January 11, 2009. Please note that the intended readers are non poker players.

From the Poker Table to the Conference Table

Ross Del Rosario


We often hear that communication is composed of three parts, what you say, how you say it and body language. Of these three components, the actual words used have the smallest portion in the message being delivered. The pitch of ones voice, intonation and pace when saying the words weigh more in getting the message across. However, body language has a bigger role in communication than the first two combined. And this is a fact that is often applied in the poker table than anywhere else.

Poker players are accomplished liars, at least on the table. It’s foolish to base ones decisions solely on what the opponent said. Seasoned poker players have also learned to sound convincing. Not only do they say they have great cards when they’re bluffing, but they say it in a way that it sounds believable. The caveat is that to the meticulous observer, their body language gives them away. This is what poker players try to look for when playing. There’s a lot of communication going on in the workplace and lessons learned from reading body language are as applicable in there as they are on the poker table.


Here are a few things to watch out for when communicating in the office with a superior, colleague, subordinate or customer.

The Head

Tilting the head to the side shows interest. That’s as much as can be said about head tilting.

There’s also lifting and dropping heads. Lifting shows confidence while dropping means the opposite. This is often seen when people greet each other and shows what their mood is at that time. This assumes that the people are about the same height. If they’re not, this doesn’t apply at all.

The Eyes

When excited, the iris dilates (the iris gets smaller). If your boss’ iris dilates after your pitch for a project, then you know you’ve hit the spot. You may just be able to get an increase in the budget for that project.

When people try to remember, their eyes move to your right (assuming that the person is directly in front and not at an angle). When they’re trying to create, their eyes move to your left. If you asked a subordinate where his report is and he answered after looking to your left, he may not be completely truthful and may be making up reasons. He’s trying to reach in his right brain hemisphere where creativity is controlled. A little bit more root-cause analysis may be required.

Closing the eyes, blinking more than usual or rubbing the eye with a finger means the person didn’t like what they saw. Be wary of a person who touches their eye right when you came to view.

Closed eyes combined with a dropped head means the person is sleeping. If he’s your subordinate, wake him up.

The Mouth

Licking lips, biting lips and hiding lips are all signs of hesitance. There’s a good chance that the person displaying any of these behaviors have something to say and may just need a little coaxing. Unconsciously, their mind is trying to tell them to restrain themselves from speaking but it still stands that they have something on their minds. They won’t be effective listeners if their minds are still filled with thoughts.

As with eyes, touching the mouth or covering the mouth means the person said something he knows deep inside he shouldn’t have. It can be a secret or a lie or even as simple as something he really isn’t sure of.

The Ears

Given that the ears don’t move, the only thing that can be said about it is if a person rubs their ears. It often means they don’t agree with what they heard. You may want to rephrase what you said or alter it completely before the receiving end disagrees with you completely.

The Hands

Hands can be seen massaging different parts of their bodies. Hands rub the temples, nape, face, forehead, neck and hands can rub each other. These are signs that the person is in a deep thought. They’re thinking of something important to them that they have to relieve the stress with self-massaging. If your boss is seen massaging himself, it’s not the best time to ask for a raise.

Hands can also be seen with fingers touching each other and pointing up. This means that the person is considering something he’s happy with. If the fingers are interlocked, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s happy about what’s in his mind. Except if the interlocked fingers are on top of his head and he’s leaning back. That’s a positive sign of approval.

The Posture

People lean forward when they’re interested and lean back when they’re not. Picture a jaded co-worker and they’re probably leaning back on their chairs the whole time. If they’re leaning forward, they’re probably updating their Facebook on their computers.

The Feet

Feet indicate interest. If ones feet point to a person, then they’re interested in that person; if the feet are oriented towards the door, the person wants to go out. Their whole posture can indicate one thing but if their feet say otherwise, it’s safe to listen to the feet. Let’s say two colleagues are talking with each other and their feet are facing each other, then a third person joins the discussion, even if their torsos face the newcomer but their feet stay put, they’re just being polite but the newcomer is not welcome to join them. If you’re the third person, take a hint.


In poker, these are called tells and person adept to reading these tells do a whole lot better at the tables. But these tells are not only limited to poker players. The better one is to reading people, the more informed their decisions will be. But all of these tells should be taken in their proper context. One has to analyze them properly to decode what they mean. Practice reading co-workers and you may be steps ahead at the conference table.

No comments: