After starting my psychology career by reading the behaviour of poker players to predict their moves, I used that experience to start The Nonverbal Group. The purpose of this group is to teach people how to read human behaviour and body language. Many of the beliefs and theories around reading body language are often false and overly presumptuous, so I wanted to change that discourse.

My goal in The Nonverbal Group is to re-establish how people read human behaviour by clarifying the difference between perception and meaning. Perception is often people trying to find meaning in body language, even if there is none. As a person with anxiety, I wanted to find meaning and in all behaviours.

How do we see the world?

Here are two questions you should ask yourself: How aware are you actually, and How close are you to establishing reality? We all see the world through our own filters, and two people can interpret the same interaction in completely different ways. While there is no “right” in perception, effectiveness is often noticed by people.

This is why the authentic self is so important. It takes less effort on your part and many people will probably like you more. This authenticity should be demonstrated in all areas of life, but the process will take time. Many people are not their best selves when interacting with those other than the ones closest to them (family, best friends, etc.).

How to change perspective on people’s faces

Reading facial expressions such as smiles are often a way to understand how a person is concealing who they are, rather than their genuine self-expression. Part of this comes from societal norms telling us to act a certain way that is not necessarily honest. Reactivity is another way to show expression; for example, determining a nod of interest from a rhythmic, disengaged nod.

Reactivity behaviour can have a significant impact on the world and others. Showing attention is also important. Not just paying attention, but showing you are listening through body language. Think of body language as your own personal landing page, communicating your behaviour to the world.

reading behaviour and faces

How to communicate effectively

To be good at reading behaviour, you need to be good at communicating. I believe the best communicators are dynamic ones, shifting their expressions and behaviour appropriately to context. While humans are naturally social, they really just want to be social with people they like. If you want your communication to improve, use the world to practice your social dynamics. Many people focus only on what they put out, so you have nothing to lose practicing on strangers. Keep in mind that even if the interaction is not meaningful to you, it may be significant for them.

Another effective way of showing authenticity is through vulnerability. If anything in your life is throwing off your social interactions, don’t hide it, be open about it. Great communication is also about range. If you are good at listening or good at speaking, work on developing the other side as well. Finally, remember the fact that everyone has a story, and judging people is an inefficient route to communication. Truly reading behaviour involves interaction, not just watching and guessing through your own perception.

Note: This article was created from the conference Achiever II, and is rewritten from the speech given by Blake Eastman

Eastman studied psychology, verbal and non-verbal behaviour, and has a background in forensic psychology. He is currently the head of The Nonverbal Group, which studies human behaviour and interactions.