Learn to Read Other People thru Your Body

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EmotionsMost of us have become pretty good at reading the body language of other people, but why not take it to the next level and learn to read their emotions?

Practice Becoming More Aware of Your Body

Work on expanding your sensitivity to emotion by paying attention to the sensations in your body when you experience particular emotional states. Our nervous system extends through our entire bodies, and we need to become familiar with all of it in order to use it as a receptor to others’ emotions Does the temperature in areas of your body change as your emotions change? Is the quality of energy different, sometimes tingling and sometimes throbbing? Is there a particular heaviness or lightness in your body?

It’s important to realize that the way emotions feel is particular to an individual. For example, when I feel frustrated or overwhelmed, my arms throb and feel tired and heavy, as if I’m carrying a big load. Other people will not feel frustration and angst in the same manner. But when you feel into another person, the sensations you perceive will be the way your body feels that person’s emotions. So if I feel into someone who is overwhelmed, I will feel the heaviness in my arms, even though that may not be the way they feel it.

Specific Focus Areas

To use this ability in a business setting, there are particular emotions that are useful to know in ourselves.

It can be extremely useful to determine if people are feeling valued and appreciated. How does your body feel when you believe you’re a valued member of a team? Perhaps your body feels light and you feel warmness in your upper torso. In contrast, what sensations do you get in your body when you feel ignored or disrespected by your co-workers or boss? Become aware of these feelings in your teams.

You want employees and co-workers to feel compelled and inspired to achieve the goals of the company. How does your body feel when you’re working towards a mission that is meaningful to you? Perhaps you get a strong expansion of energy around your heart and head. In contrast, what sensations do you get when you’re apathetic about achieving the goals of your company or feel that there is no compelling vision? Knowing how these emotions feel in your body gives you a baseline for determining how much passion your employees and coworkers feel.

Sometimes teams need an injection of optimism or help solving a problem. What sensations do you get when you feel that failure is imminent or you’re facing a serious problem?  Perhaps your energy drops and your feet feel leaden or there’s a burning in the pit of your stomach. Determine if these emotions are present in your employees, so you know who needs help.

Your own experiences in everyday business life likely give you the opportunity to feel some of these emotions and become familiar with them in your body. In addition, you can learn to feel them by thinking about a time in the past when you were faced with conditions that caused these emotions. Recall the details of scenarios, conjuring up all the emotion. And of course, pay attention to the details of how your body feels.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a writer, speaker and consultant helping organizations strengthen agility and performance by shaping emotional energy. She is a thought leader bringing to light the new science of group emotional energy and connecting it to business performance. She has had a 28-year award winning career as a C-level Fortune 500 executive and Big Four consulting firm professional.
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  1. Elaine Correia  December 5, 2011

    Great explanation of how to ‘sense’ other people’s emotions. It really is useful to understand another person and tailor what needs to be said.

    I would like to offer a word to the wise, especially for people who are natural empaths. I know from my experience that for years I didn’t understand why I felt the things I felt when around people. I felt different from when I was alone. Later, when I understood what I was doing, I tried to turn it off.

    I learned to seek a middle ground- it really is useful to understand what another person is feeling, but I put myself in ‘observer’ mode so that I do not take on the emotion.

    Now my latest exercise is to simply ‘read and know’ without having to feel.

  2. Anthony Didato  December 6, 2011

    Hi Jackie – this is great! I really believe in what you have to say. From what I’ve learned from my personal development programs led by Bob and Judith Wright, I am learning to pay more attention to my body’s sensations and relating it to how I’m feeling. I think you’re right on in helping managers to become more aware of their bodies sensations to become a better manager. I think if managers were more aware of this, businesses would be more successful, employees would be more productive and businesses would be more profitable. Keep up the good work!

  3. Shelley Mizener  December 6, 2011

    Awesome, thank you

  4. Betty Reitsma  December 6, 2011

    Thank you, Jackie, for your interesting understanding of the process of working in a group towards a common goal.

  5. Pearl Zhu  December 10, 2011

    Hi, Jackie, very interesting posting, I would say, we’ve just been living in such a information explosive world, everything need be analyzed, including the body language, extends the sentimental analysis discipline. On the other hand, we may just need avoid pitfalls such as over-analysis or stereotypical thinking, since we also just live in such a diversified world. thanks

  6. Debbie Durrance  December 10, 2011

    Interesting article Jackie! I agree that leaders have real opportunity to connect with their employees by understanding their emotions. Your article parallels the thought behind Social Awareness, a component of Emotional Intelligence which involves the ability to listen to others with compassion and then actually feel their emotions. The problem is that as leaders are promoted, they may or may not have learned how to use and apply emotional skills in their leadership style. Studies indicate a strong ineptitude in this area in senior managers nationwide (Goleman, 2002). My experience has been that the greater the emotional “connection” a leader has with employees, the greater the overall performance, efficiency, and effectiveness. Thanks for a good article.

  7. Dennis Mixer  December 11, 2011

    It was not a conscious activity for me, more an evolution through experience. Making it conscious does help us be more sensitive to how our bodies express the chemical reactions within them. Being conscious does not mean being cognitively hyperactive. Over-thinking can keep us from discovery. In fact, my physical state when intellectually wrestling is much the same as when I feel frustrated and blocked. Intellectual pursuit, then, may inhibit the awareness that is generated when we calm our bodies and allow perception to balance critical-thinking. The only way I know to do that, it to spend more time with those we wish to understand. After 35 years of marriage, my wife and I don’t have to use a lot of words to understand how each is feeling, we use the words to bring constructive outlets to the emotional energy we must release. It is called a relationship. I think too many business leaders want to avoid the relationship building, because they know it makes difficult decisions more painful. Avoidance means eliminating the phrase, “It isn’t personal…it is business.” Face it, business that isn’t personal is just usury.

  8. Chetan Srivastava  December 11, 2011

    Some points are really good points. Thanks.

  9. John Meaney  December 23, 2011

    Thanks for getting this content into the sphere of the business realm. My team leaders must demonstrate these abilities not only in terms of awareness, but influence and outcomes.


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