People Reading in Real Time

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We've heard the slogans: career success depends on developing relationships, establish rapport with your colleagues. And do it quickly! No longer is it enough to treat our co-workers the way we would like to be treated. Now we are being challenged to employ the Platinum Corollary to the Golden Rule: do unto others the way they would like to be done unto.

But how can you do it? How do you quickly size up a new team member, or an internal customer, and then shape your approach to his style? How do you read new colleagues in real time, and then use what you've discovered to help you be more effective and productive together?

Strategies and approaches to people reading abound. Behavioral scientists have developed style assessment instruments. Team building experts offer six cassette audio programs and three day seminars. Some even have lists of questions to memorize.

But, it is tough to refer to a list when you're meeting a new co-worker, to remember the pros’ suggestions in real time, and certainly not the time to administer a paper and pencil instrument.

Use the “three P's" instead:

All the suggestions and models for people reading can be summarized in three P's: pace, priority and process. Pace assesses energy: does this person talk, think and move fast or slow? What's her priority: people or tasks? What's his process for making a decision: data and facts or hunches and intuition? This model quickly covers the basics in people reading, and provides pointers for customizing your responses based on the characteristics of your new acquaintance.

People reading starts with listening. By interested questioning, deliberate listening, and thoughtful analysis of what we have heard, we understand what people want and how we can best explain what we have to do. Our understanding builds rapport. With rapport comes the beginnings of relationship. With relationship comes increased likelihood of successful teamwork. We go where they are so we can lead them to where we would like them to be.

Step one: ask questions. Find out what they can offer. What have they been doing? Has it worked well for them? What do they need, what resources are important? Ask for clarification of incomplete or confusing answers.

Step Two: listen to what they say and how they say it. Listen for content: what they are saying. What is their need? What don't they need or want? Check it out. Are you accurate, or are you working from what you think they should need?

Listen with your third ear: how are they saying what they are saying? How people talk gives the clues for reading them in real time. Watch for physical clues, how they move their body and use the space around them. Listen for vocal clues, their tone of voice and the pacing of their words. Think about the words that they use to assess their information processing style. Listening for content tells you their needs. Listening with the third ear tells you their style.

Step three: analyze what you have heard using the three P's: pacing, priority and process.

Fast paced prospects move quickly, talk quickly and use lots of space around them. Their words tumble from their mouths in short sentences that jump quickly from one idea to the next. They use graphic words, few adjectives, and move on even if you do not keep up. Deliberate people move more slowly and use less space. They measure their words, and use longer sentences with lots of detail and adjectives. Others describe them as easy going or laid back. Think of the difference between a stereotypic big city New Yorker and a Georgia farmer. Pace is a measure of speed, not intelligence, interest, or ability.

Priority clues are found in the results people want. Are they considering people or products? If you hear how will my folks feel, or how will this impact our dual career families, you are dealing with a people person. If you hear what is the bottom line, or how will this impact our quality standards and criteria, task is the priority.

Information processing style addresses the data wanted and the approach used for making decisions. Are they deliberate or intuitive? Do they focus on details, or the big picture? Do they ask specific questions about features, or focus more on who else has bought what you are selling? Do they want to know amounts, dates, places, and times? Or do you hear them saying it sounds good, maybe it will work, or it feels okay?

Do they make decisions quickly or do they want to think about it? Quick deciders determine a need, ask for information, and take action. They move so quickly their decisions are assumed not stated. They are ready to take action while you are still offering information. Contemplative deciders keep the process open. They establish what might be a need and ask for information. The information leads to more possible needs, which of course triggers the need for more information. And so on, and so on, and so on. They need help focusing on priorities and getting started on some part of the task, even if the whole project isn't outlined. (It never will be!)

Step four: use what you have learned. People reading moves out of the realm of interesting parlor games and into a powerful tool for developing productive relationships when you use what you now understand about the other person to establish rapport. The objective is to mirror their style so you can treat them the way they want to be treated.

But, like most powerful tools, mirroring can be a double edged sword. Your objective is to establish a comfort and understanding with a new co-worker, not mimic every move they make. Mirroring is not parroting back to a prospect the last four words in every sentence, nor imitating every posture, vocal or verbal characteristic. Rapport is built by presenting yourself with a flavor of the other person's style. You aim towards the midline between your combined styles.

If you are the Georgia farmer, speed up a bit when talking to that New Yorker. If your internal customer is angry and upset, increase the intensity of your voice and posture, without moving into anger and negativity. Match eye level: stand if they are standing, sit if they sit down. But, don't cross your arms, legs, or fiddle with desk accessories just because they do. Moderate your matching.

When it comes to priority, be prepared with responses to fit their style. Anchor your explanations with a “what this means to you. . . " tag line to match their priority.

Be prepared with data and details for deliberate deciders. Be sure you can describe the big picture for intuitives. Get out of the way with quick deciders. Be listening for decision signals. Be willing to nudge and coach a contemplative decider. State what has been decided, what won't change, what can be acted upon even if there are still some open issues.

People reading is the cornerstone to establishing rapport and treating others the way they want to be treated. With a little practice you can quickly develop a powerful tool for increasing your effectiveness as a team player. It allows you to build a base of solid relationship skills enhances the ability of the whole team to be more successful.

Copyright © 2005 Pat Wiklund. All rights in all media reserved. This article may be reprinted so long as it is kept intact with the copyright and by-line.

Pat Wiklund is known as the One-Person Business Turnaround Specialist. She works with professional services business owners so they can make more money and get more personal satisfaction from their work. Start taking charge of your business and your life with her TakingCharge mini ecourse from her latest book, Taking Charge When You’re Not in Control by sending a blank email to

Contact Pat at


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