If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan you’ll know he uses the power of deduction to find clues, read people and solve cases. Although we can’t be nearly as good as him, we can still pick up a few skills to help us read the people we meet.

It’s not as exciting or mysterious as being a detective or reading people’s minds. But reading people based on their verbal and nonverbal cues is an important skill in the workplace. In a professional setting, you have to interact with many people and work in teams. 

Sometimes, you may even have a conflict with a colleague. In this case, being able to read people will help you understand where others are coming from and what they’re feeling. It’ll help you become a better professional by building strong work relationships. Verbal cues include tone and pitch while nonverbal cues include facial expressions, gestures and body language.

Empathizing with your colleagues and being sensitive to people’s emotions are a few things you will learn by reading people objectively and without judgment. Let’s look at Harappa’s three-step process of deduction—part of the Decoding Others course—to understand how you can read people effectively.

Process Of Deduction

Reading people correctly helps you understand them better. When you meet someone for the first time, for instance, you might form an opinion about them based on their appearance or the way they carry themselves. If these opinions are biased, you risk misjudging people. 

Say that someone has shifty eyes with an unsettled expression on their face. You may assume they are untrustworthy. But their body language could also be a result of them getting nervous or anxious about meeting new people. You can understand differences in personalities by picking up on subtle cues. With experience, you’ll be able to read others well and respond to them in a way that makes them feel comfortable around you. 

Here’s a three-step process for reading people using the Deduction Model: 

  1. Observe

This is the first thing you do when you meet someone. You observe how they act around you, their facial expressions and body language, as well as the tone, pitch and volume of their voice. Each of these cues impacts your opinion of them. Observations are made by simply looking at people and situations as a bystander, without judgment or evaluation of someone’s personality. 

For instance, say that you have a job interview and you have to meet the interviewer at a café. You notice that the interviewer looks relaxed and casual. Or you may notice that they have a firm handshake and greet you with a smile. These observations will then lead to the next step, that is, the inference.

  1. Infer

An inference regards the subtle cues in someone’s behavior and helps you assess their intentions and motivations. You make an inference by adding meaning to your observations. In the same example, after observing your interviewer’s casual and friendly demeanor, you’ll most likely infer that they’ve planned an informal meeting. This will also help ease your nervousness. 

You can draw on your past experiences and personal values to make inferences. This often helps you understand the other person better. But remember, there’s a chance you’ll end up making assumptions or judging someone while making up your mind about them. Our biases and prejudices often stand in the way of reading people objectively. But you can always verify or check your inference to correct your opinion of someone. With practice, you’ll get better at checking your biases and trusting your gut as you read people.

  1. Verify

You should always be open to the possibility that you may be reading people incorrectly. For instance, if a team member doesn’t speak up in team meetings, you may feel that they’re not making an effort to participate. However, the truth could be that they’re simply shy and intimidated by the presence of senior management.  

Before judging people harshly, try empathizing with them and seeing things from their perspective. This will make you more attuned to their thoughts and feelings. This is a great way to build a strong rapport with your teammates. This step of verification is critical in the process of making deductions. Remember, even Sherlock Holmes was occasionally wrong in his initial inferences!

A key advantage of reading people objectively is that it helps you improve your interpersonal relationships.  You’ll learn to adapt your behavior and align yourself with other people based on their personality. Everyone is unique, and the ability to read verbal and nonverbal cues will help you get along with different colleagues at work.

Being empathetic and non-judgmental are important skills in the workplace. Harappa Education’s Decoding Others course will teach you how to identify the unique workstyles, and sensibilities of your colleagues and develop an empathetic mindset. Listen with empathy and pay attention to people’s words and actions to build lasting relationships in your personal and professional life. With your ability to read people, you’ll soon be everyone’s favorite person in the workplace! 


Explore topics & skills such as the Cognitive SkillsBlack and White ThinkingCognitive Bias & Theories of Intelligence from our Harappa Diaries blog section.

Related articles

Discover more from Harappa with a selection of trending blogs on the latest topics in online learning and career transformation