How to See People for Who They Really Are

How to See People for Who They Really Are

We humans, are splendid actors. Unfortunately, we take these acting skills for granted. That’s probably because we are acting unconsciously, without even realizing it. But at the same time, all this acting makes us guilty of being hypocrites. Additionally, it’s not possible to hide your true feelings completely, after all. Consequently, we end up leaking valuable information about our actual feelings in the form of our body language and gestures collectively called as “nonverbal communication”. If you can somehow master this language, you can actually enter people’s minds and see them for who they really are. The following lines will explain exactly how to do it. 

The theatrical nature of social life

If you want to see your acting skills at work, just observe yourself for one day. Are your facial expressions, your tone of voice, your gestures and body language the same, in all your social encounters? Are your facial expressions and body posture the same while you are talking to your boss and your colleagues? Of course not. You’re a sweet dove in front of the boss and a hawk in front of your inferiors. Let’s take another example. Imagine a person, who is not good at these acting skills. He expresses whatever he feels. Whatever annoys him, he responds to that instinctively with shouting and cursing, without considering who is in front of him? He blurs out whatever he thinks right, to whoever is in front of him. Here you have a “social fool” who would not be able to survive a week in any existing human society. It’s absolutely essential for the normal smooth functioning of social life. Otherwise, your seat is booked for the nuthouse.

We learn early on in life to conceal our true feelings, deal with every person according to his social status, and the power he wields over us. But as I mentioned earlier all this acting makes us guilty of being hypocrites. Also, it’s also not possible to hide your true feelings completely, after all. These two factors make us leak critical information about our actual feelings. This is the real key to people’s minds and souls.

Knowing people in this way is extremely important in this age because modern culture lays extra emphasis on being superficially nice which causes people to hide and suppress the negative feelings they might be experiencing. This has even deeper and ancient roots. For thousands of years, our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers and relied on non-verbal cues and expressions for communication as language had not been developed by then. That is why the human face became so expressive that it is almost impossible to conceal a strong emotion or feeling that we are experiencing. That is why we have certain gestures and body language cues that signals so much about our true feelings.

The Basics

In observing a person you should set a baseline i.e. their normal, default behavior, and then look out for deviations. For example if a person is naturally shy, notice when he behaves with an extroverted enthusiasm. Or if someone is normally relaxed, be aware of the sudden nervousness. Once you are aware of a person’s baseline, it will be easier for you study and interpret the deviations. This is extremely helpful in knowing about any hidden plans somebody has. These deviations tell you about the inner struggle they are having and can’t help leak out through such nonverbal cues.

Remember as this is a new language you are learning you need to constantly increase your “vocabulary”. To increase your nonverbal vocabulary you must try to note as many different nonverbal cues as you can. In doing so, you should observe people who are at different levels of the emotional spectrum. To note the excited you should observe the ones about to do something they have been looking up to, going on a date for example, and then look for the changes in their expressions. Similarly observe the ones just entering a difficult situation and notice the changes, the tension in the muscles, and dilation of pupils. This is helping you to increase your vocabulary.


In practicing these skills, however you should be careful about certain common errors you might fall into. Verbal communication leaves space for interpretation. We can argue about the intentions of the person based on what he said. But nonverbal cues are much more direct and hard to decipher. There is no dictionary to refer. So your personal biases might cloud your observations and you may tend to interpret all the signs to suit your own emotional leanings. For example, if you consider someone an enemy, all the signs from him might seem hostile as it confirms your bias. Same is the situation for those you like. Therefore you need to subtract your personal prejudices from your observations.  

Two important categories of Non-Verbal Cues

There are two important categories of nonverbal cues that you got to look for.

Like Cues

If you don’t know who doesn’t like you, will end up being caught off guard. They’ll surprise you with a blow and you won’t be ready for it. Therefore you must know who is up against you. People constantly give signs of active dislike and hostility. A sudden squinting of the eyes at something you have said. The glare, the pursing of the lips until they nearly disappear, the stiff neck, the folding of the arm as you are trying to make conversation, and an overall tension in the body. Another important sign is that if in a meeting you show up early or have an accidental meeting, you have caught them off-guard before they have worn their mask. Those early moments are vital in noticing those cues of hostility. Another trick is to compare their body language with you and others. If they are harboring any hatred, it’ll be much friendlier and warmer with others as compared to you. Also, people are more honest and can’t hide when they are drunk, angry, frustrated, or sleepy. So try to catch them there.

Dislike Cues

On the other hand, those falling under your spell will display signs of relaxation in facial muscles, in the lines of the forehead. And the area around the mouth, their lips will appear more fully exposed and the whole area around their eyes will widen. These are expressions of comfort and openness. As for more intense feelings like love , the pupils dilate, a natural response where eyes like what they are seeing and want more of it. Eyebrows are raised. Perhaps the most important signal for love is voice. It’s much harder to control your voice. When people are more engaged and excited, pitch of their voice rises indicating emotional arousal. You can detect a purring quality of voice which some compare with a vocal smile. A quickening pace also reflects increasing rapport. A happy voice tends to make us feel the same mood. You know it when you feel it. When people start liking you they’ll stand close to you with open arms indicating release of tension. Frequent nods, attentive gazes, and a genuine smile indicates likeness. Another is the unconscious mirroring, copying the way you sit and tilting your head.

In the next articles we’ll build upon this and try to uncover some more secrets of the non verbal communication which will help you gain more insight into the minds of people.

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