Reading between the lines, or interpreting the hidden meanings of what people say, is a s**** that you can learn. While you may not always be able to figure out exactly what someone might have meant, you can get a good idea. Make sure to look at the big picture when reading between the lines. Pay attention to their words, their body language, and the situation.

EditAnalysing What People Say

  1. Listen carefully. Listening closely to what people say is essential to reading between the lines. Develop your listening s****s and practice them regularly.[1] Some good listening techniques include:[2]

    • Smiling and nodding to show you are paying attention.
    • Using neutral statements to encourage the person to keep talking, such as “yes,” “I see,” and “go on.”
    • Rephrasing what the person has just said to ensure that you have understood them. For example, you might say something like, "It sounds like you are saying that you don't think I am a very good listener. Is that right?"

  2. Take notes so that you can analyze them later. Taking notes on what someone says will allow you to return to the information later and analyze it. Write down anything that seems important or that you'd like to come back to. However, taking notes might not be practical for every situation.

    • For example, taking notes during a job interview is acceptable, but taking notes during a conversation with a friend may seem strange to the other person.

  3. Notice what the person does not say. What the person leaves out may be as important as what they include. After the conversation, consider whether they left out anything that you think is important.[3]

    • For example, if a coworker avoided talking about their progress on a special project, then they might be struggling with the project.
    • If a friend changes the subject when you attempt to talk to them about a recent fight you had, then they might not be ready to talk about it.

  4. Ask for clarity. After the conversation, it is fine to ask the person about anything that was unclear to you. Be honest if you don't understand something or if you want more information about something they said.

    • Try saying something like, “I am interested in the way you described your process for this piece of art. Could you tell me more about that?”
    • You can also simply say, “I didn't understand what you said about about the homework. Can you please explain that again?”

  5. Reflect on the things the person said. After the conversation, reflect on what was said. Ask yourself some questions to identify things that seemed important or that might have a hidden meaning. Some good questions to ask yourself include:

    • What stood out about the conversation? Was there anything about it that was bizarre or uncomfortable?
    • What was the main focus of the conversation?
    • What seemed to be the most important subject for the other person?
    • Did we arrive at a solution or compromise? If not, did the other person suggest a way for us to do that?

EditInterpreting Body Language

  1. Note the person's facial expressions. The way that someone looks at you can say a lot about what they are thinking. Pay close attention to the person's facial expressions while they are talking and listening to you.[4]

    • For example, if the person is smiling and making eye contact, then they are likely interested in you and what you are saying. However if the person is looking away or around the room and not smiling, then they are probably not interested.

  2. Look at how they're sitting or standing. The way someone positions themself in relation to you can also give you clues about their attitude. Check the position of their body while you are talking to them.[5]

    • For example, if the person is facing you and leaning in towards you while you are speaking, then they are likely interested in what you're saying. However, if they're turned away from you and/or leaning back, then they might not be interested.

  3. Watch their hands and arms. Hand and arm position is another good way to read between the lines as well. Note where the person places their hands and arms to determine how interested they are in the conversation.[6]

    • For example, if the person has their arms crossed, then this is a good indication that they are not interested.
    • If their hands are on their hips, then they might be feeling impatient.
    • If their hands are resting on their lap or to their sides, then they are likely feeling relaxed and content.

EditConsidering the Situation

  1. Think about the circumstances. Along with the things that the person says and they way they use body language, the circumstances of a conversation may also provide helpful clues about the person’s feelings. Consider the circumstances of the conversation to decide if any of their words or body language might be due to that.

    • For example, if you tried to pitch a new idea to your boss while she was trying to finish something, then she might have seemed uninterested. However, she might have a different reaction if you pitch the idea under better circumstances.
    • Or, if you tried to talk to a friend about a fight with another friend while she was in the process of getting ready for a big date, then her attention was likely elsewhere and she might have seemed uninterested in what you had to say.

  2. Examine the timing. Choosing the best time to have a conversation can also make a big difference in how the person responds to you. Reflect on how well you timed the conversation as well.

    • For example, if you had a conversation with your boss at the very end of the day, and you noticed that they gave curt answers and seemed impatient for you to finish, then this could just have been due to their desire to wrap up the day.
    • Or, if you spoke with a friend after they had just woken up, then this could explain why they weren’t paying close attention to what you were saying.

  3. Reflect on any other relevant factors. Before you decide what the person’s reaction to you might have meant, make sure to consider other possible factors in how they responded to you. Some questions you might ask yourself include:

    • Is it possible that they were having a bad day?
    • Does this person react to other people the same way?
    • Could the person’s body language mean anything else?

EditSources and Citations

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