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How to Read and Influence People

My leadership coaching clients who are great communicators have highly developed social radar skills. They are open and honest in their interpersonal interactions and help people achieve a shared purpose. They are warm, optimistic, inspiring and forward thinking.

One of my law firm Managing Partner executive coaching clients recently shared with me that he was having a hard time persuading several of the firm partners on a new direction for the firm. We have been working on improving his situational awareness and ability to read body language.

I asked him “Can you give me a time when you were effective at reading people?” He responded “When I focused more on the partner’s body language and emotional states.” A communication strategy he was working on in our coaching. I suggested that he experiment with shifting from an inner focus to making better eye contact with members of the firm’s leadership team and asking more powerful questions.

At our next meeting, he reported the partners on the leadership team started to engage more. The partners also shifted into listening more and asking good questions rather than presenting continuous logical arguments that impeded productive conversation.

Situational Awareness

Enlightened leaders know that creating a socially intelligent workplace culture increases engagement and alignment with company goals. In order for people to be fully engaged, they need to feel they are following trustworthy and socially astute leaders.

High situational awareness which is the ability to read situations and interpret people’s behaviors in terms of possible intentions, emotional states and proclivity to interact is critical to reading and influencing people.
High-potential leaders must be able to read emotional contexts in any given situation.

Executives spend most of their waking hours interacting with and influencing others so they can meet any number of business objectives. Most of us believe we’re pretty good at reading people, but we may overestimate our prowess.

Body Language

We assign meaning to gestures, facial expressions and vocal intonations. We believe that people who cross their arms are closed-off and defensive. If a woman puts her hands on her hips, we assume she’s taking a stand and could become aggressive. When a man casts his eyes toward the ceiling, we think he’s considering something.

But such assumptions aren’t necessarily true, and they can distract us from other important cues. Leaders require a deeper understanding of the art and science of reading people to accurately decode body language.


Research shows that people are only 20 percent successful at reading body language. Determining the true meaning of visual, verbal and nonverbal cues requires a more complex analysis of other variables.

Consider the many clues we may miss during critical negotiations or board presentations. Have you ever left a meeting wondering how you fared? If so, you likely focused intensely on your presentation and failed to observe and decode others’ communication signals.

You cannot interpret signals if you’re not seeing them. An inner focus prevents you from observing, hearing, filtering, asking questions and interpreting signs. You’re simply not taking advantage of all observable, available data.

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development for emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching to help leaders develop a high performance business environment?  Inspiring leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to fully engage employees.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “How effective am at reading and influencing people?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching for collaborative leaders who create sustainable businesses.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help you create a culture where all employees are intrinsically motivated and fully engaged. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.
For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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