8 Really Small Things That Tell You a Lot About Someone
#1. How they treat service staff
Learning how to read people is a psychological superpower, but it’s also a skill that anyone can pick up. It’s possible to glean a ton of information about others simply by paying attention.
Ever since I started writing, I’ve been honing this skill. It’s not a hard and fast science — everyone has off days. But staying aware of a few patterns can help you find people with great character — and shape the person you may wish to be. I look for these eight subtle clues in my interactions with people to understand who they really are.
The way they treat service staff
The way someone treats people who work in retail, food service, and hospitality tells me pretty much everything I need to know about them. Why? Because when you’re dealing with service staff, you’re in a position of power. An employee almost always has to be nice to you because “the customer is always right.”
If you treat these people poorly, it shows you have low integrity, empathy, and even self-respect, because someone with self-respect never has to act as if they’re above anyone.
How polite they are
People often point out how “polite” I am, and it’s so strange to me. It’s shocking to find out how rare it is for people to have basic manners. That’s why whenever I meet a person who says “please” and “thank you” often, I know I’m dealing with someone who’s socially intelligent. You can make someone’s day, reduce friction during interactions, and move through life much more easily by saying those simple words.
How they walk
When Barack Obama walks into a room, he has a palpable sense of confidence: He’s simultaneously friendly, powerful, and attention-grabbing, though he’s never seeking validation. When I see this type of swagger in others, I’m captivated.
I learned a useful trick from The Art of Charm called the “doorway technique.” Basically, you “anchor” confident body language to something you commonly see during the day, like a doorway. Each time you walk through the doorway, you’ll know to check your body language. Are you standing up straight or are you slouching your shoulders? Are you walking with a bit of pep in your step or are you dragging your feet?
How they respond in slightly uncomfortable situations
Once, I was standing in line at Chipotle and overheard the man in front of me ask for queso on his burrito. The employee didn’t hear him, so the man’s partner looked at him as if to say, “Aren’t you going to repeat yourself?” But he didn’t. Why? Because he’d have to experience the slightest social friction.
It’s a low-stakes example, but situations like these can be a clue to how a person moves through their life — and how they’d handle the bigger things, where the social friction is greater. Are they willing to be a bit uncomfortable, or will they stay quiet because it feels safer?
How they respond to the good fortune of others
Back when Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl, a funny meme made the rounds: A photo of his brother Eli, whose facial expression seemed to indicate that he wasn’t too thrilled. “Crap, what am I going to brag about at Thanksgiving now?” one tweet captioned him thinking.
To figure out whether a person tends to support or envy those who are successful, watch their facial expressions or listen to the subtle hints in their language. A “concern troll” is someone who disingenuously expresses concern about something when they’re really just trying to undermine a person. Imagine someone talking about how they made a bunch of money with their latest business venture, and then another person responds by saying, “Gosh, you’re going to have to pay a lot in self-employment taxes. Make sure you’re saving.” Ask yourself whether their intention is to help out, or to throw a bit of shade.
How they frame their responsibilities and challenges
Do you “have to” work on the technical aspects of your business, or do you “get to” learn valuable technical skills to help your business grow? When you listen to people talk about the things on their plate, you can get a sense of whether they view life through a lens of victimhood or of agency. Language is powerful.
How they respond to the phrase “How’ve you been?” or “What’s new?”
Many people give the default responses: “good,” “okay,” or “same ‘ol.” You want to gravitate toward people who always seem to be up to something. The ones who light up when they talk about their side projects, cool hobbies, or ideas they’ve been thinking about.
How children and dogs respond to them
I swear that children have a sixth sense about people. Because their capacities for elaborate reasoning aren’t fully developed, young kids focus on your “vibe.” They don’t base their opinions of you on what you say or how you try to come across — rather, they narrow in on your facial expressions and the way you carry yourself. When you’re not fully present with them, believe me, they know.
No one is going to get all of this right 100% of the time. But being a bit more observant and noticing patterns about people’s behavior can have a major impact on your life. The more attention you pay, the more you can surround yourself with people who truly enrich your life.