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How To Read a Person like a Book

Lets face it, Life is the True Testing Ground.

For the simplicity, lets take automobile manufacturers into equation:

"Automobile manufacturers subject any new car accessory to extensive testing. However, it is not until the accessory is exposed to real-life situations that its success or failure can be definitively determined"

In the same manner, life situations also offer better tests for the interpretation of gestures. The comprehension of gestures has not been achieved through the limited behavioral-laboratory approach, one which attempts to study individual parts abstracted from meaningful groups of gestures. It is a human process, and the methods that humans have intuitively used for hundreds of thousands of years to understand one another naturally lend themselves as techniques for understanding gestures.

Each gesture is like a word in a language. In order to be understood in a language, one must structure his words into units, or “sentences,” that express complete thoughts. Congruence can provide a structure on which human actions can be ordered and thereby recalled more easily. The problem with observing congruence is that we tend to “tune in and out” not only verbal communication but also nonverbal messages.

As an example, imagine an individual briskly walking into your office. He says good morning, unbuttons his coat, sits down with his body relaxed, legs spread apart, slight smile on his face, hands lightly resting on the arms of the chair. Thus far, all congruent gestures indicate that the person is receptive, open, not defensive, and probably at ease or comfortable with the environment.

Once having organized the initial gestures into a composite attitude or feeling, you

will find it easy to turn off your visual reception in favor of the audio and relax into a complacent belief that everything is going well. The rude awakening comes when you are jarred from your lethargy by an awareness that something has gone wrong.

As an example, the person is now talking with his fists clenched, or he is shaking his index finger at you. In addition to scowling, he is getting red in the face either from heat or anger. The environment has quickly deteriorated into a rather sticky situation from which you must either extricate yourself or face a hostile friend, client, or customer.

Openness, Defensivness, Evaluation, Suspicion

With very few exceptions, people nonverbally communicate their inner feelings quite openly. If their verbal statementsare consistent with emotions and attitudes revealed through gestures, they are probably telling the truth. Look for consistency between the verbal and the nonverbal communication, and congruence between individual gestures and gesture-clusters. The ability to do so will serve you very well in everyday judgments of your business and social contacts.


Once people have been exposed to the idea of attempting to read through to the subconscious by closely observing gestures, the question they are most likely to ask is, “How can I tell when someone is lying?” The television programTo Tell the Truth can serve as a laboratory for testing your ability to apply your awareness of gestures to separate truth-tellers from liars.

The program presents groups of three people who are questioned by a panel. Two of them will lie and attempt to conceal their true identity; one tells the truth. Observing their stance, facial expressions, and other body gestures, and matching these with what they say can strengthen your ability to pick out those who prevaricate.

Those gestures and gesture-clusters used by the falsifiers which indicate secretiveness, defensiveness, or concealment are discussed in later sections. Distinguishing these from openness gestures will help you recognize the untruthful person.

There are many gestures that are parts of openness clusters. Among these are:

  • Open Hands - One gesture that most of us readily associate with sincerity and openness is open hands. Italians use the open-hands gesture freely. When they are overtly frustrated they lay their open hands on their chest and gesture, “What do you want me to do?” The shoulder-shrugging gesture is also accompanied by open hands, palms upward. Actors use this gesture in many expressive ways, not only to show emotion but to indicate the open nature of the character even before the actor speaks. Watch children when they are proud of what they have accomplished. They show their hands openly. But when they feel guilty or suspicious about a situation, they hide their hands either in their pockets or behind their back.

  • Unbuttoning Coat - Men who are open or friendly toward you frequently unbutton their coats or even take them off in your presence. As with other attitudes, openness encourages similar feelings in others. Charles Darwin noted this interaction when he wrote that he frequently observed animals communicating submissiveness, a form of openness, when they lay on their backs and exposed their soft underparts and throats to their opponents. He noted that in such situations even the most hostile animal did not take advantage of the vanquished.


"An attitude not only of defence, but defiance."

In contrast to gestures that indicate openness are those that guard the body or the emotions against a threatened assault. If openness is mishandled, it can easily become defensiveness.

  • Arms Crossed on Chest - The crossed-arm position is a common occurrence in everyday life and, according to Darwin, seems to be used throughout the world to communicate defensiveness. Teachers use it, especially when in a group of their peers, and doctors tend to use it when in the company of other doctors. The very young will cross their arms when defying their parents’ instructions, and the very old when they are defending their right to beheard. It seemingly acts as a protective guard against an anticipated attack or a fixed position from which the individual would rather not move. Of all the indicators we have researched, this gesture tends to be the easiest to understand and sometimes the least recognized as a nonverbal indicator. It also tends to be a gesture that influences the behavior of others. In a group of four or more persons, you can influence the entire group by crossing your arms in a defensive position. Hold this gesture not only when listening but when speaking and notice how soon other members of the group follow your lead.


Some of the most misinterpreted gestures are what we call evaluation gestures — those dealing with pensiveness or thoughtfulness. Since much of our effectiveness in business and social life depends on communications, knowledge and appraisal of feedback information are vital for the individual who wants to know how well his message has been received. Very little research has been conducted on the evaluation process before the acceptance of an idea, product, or service. However, we have accumulated a considerable amount of data on gestures from the behavioural patterns of salesmen, teachers, nurses, executives, lawyers, and many others, indicating that there are actions that do communicate that persons are evaluating.

Evaluation gestures:

  • Hand - to - cheek

  • Head Tilted

  • Stroking Chin

  • Gestures with Glasses

Suspicion and Secretiveness

There are many people who say things they believe you want them to say. Afterward they feel extremely frustrated with themselves because they have not exposed their true feelings and, as a result, often work against the goals rather than trying to achieve them. If a person tends not to look at you at all, he is very likely to be concealing something.

However, incongruity in gesture-clusters probably is the best indication of a person being secretive.

A smiling, belligerent, defensive person is incongruous and may be, with a superficial smile, attempting to soften the blow. “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” as Shakespeare says in Hamlet . Similarly, even those without nonverbal training or conscious exposure to it sense when someone is playing a game of hide and seek. What most have difficulty in doing is to isolate the gestures that have communicated this awareness and then to understand how to cope with the situation creatively.

All the gestures that communicate suspicion, uncertainty, rejection, and doubt essentially have a common message: negative!

To summarise

  1. The way a person carries himself tells you more than his words ever could.

  2. Body language is often the most honest form of communication.

  3. The eyes are the windows to the soul.

  4. The way a person shakes your hand can tell you a lot about their level of confidence and assertiveness.

  5. The way a person sits or stands can indicate their level of comfort and confidence in a situation.

  6. Facial expressions can reveal a person’s true emotions, even if they are trying to hide them.

  7. Paying attention to a person’s tone of voice and inflection can give you insights into how they are feeling.

  8. The way a person uses their hands and gestures can reveal whether they are open or closed off to communication.

  9. The way a person dresses and grooms themselves can tell you a lot about their personality and values.

  10. Observing a person’s body language can help you build rapport and establish trust in a conversation.


  1. Gerard I. Nierenberg - Founder of the Negotiation Institute

  2. Henry H. Calero - Best selling coauthor of the New Art of Negotiation

  3. Gabriel Grayson - Best selling author of Talking With Your Hands, Listening With Your Eyes

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