The Laws of Human Nature

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.


Law 1: Master the Emotional Self – The Law of Irrationality

Law 2: Transform Self-love into Empathy – The Law of Narcissism

Law 3: See Through People’s Masks – The Law of Role-Playing

Erickson instead focused mostly on people’s physical presence as an entree’ into their mental life and unconscious. Words are often used as a cover-up, a way to conceal what is really going on.

His motto was “observe, observe, observe”. For this purpose he kept a notebook, writing down all of his observations.

What he discovered is that nonverbal communication cannot be experienced simply through thinking and translating thoughts into words but must be felt physically as one engages with facial expressions or locked positions of other people.

He had to tamp down his ego-thinking less of what he wanted to say and instead directing his attention outward into the other person, attuning himself to their changing moods as reflected in the body language.

As Erickson saw it, the harshness of life makes most people turn inward. They have no mental space left over for simple observations, and the second language largely passes them by.

It is estimated that over 65 percent of all human communication is nonverbal but that people pick up and internalize only about 5 percent of this information.

Instead, almost all of our social attention is absorbed by what people say, which more often than not actually serves to conceal what they are really thinking and feeling.

Nonverbal cues tell us what people are trying to emphasize with their words and the subtext of their message, the nuances of communication.

These cues tell us what they are actively hiding, their real desires.

To miss this information is to operate blindly, to invite misunderstanding, and to lose endless opportunities to influence people by not noticing the signs of what they really want or need.

Your task is simple:

  • First you must recognize your state of self-absorption and how little you actually observe. With this understanding you will be motivated to develop observation skills.
  • Second you must understand, as Erickson did, the different nature of this form of communication. It requires opening up your senses and relating to people more on the physical level, absorbing their physical energy and not just their words.

You do not simply observe their facial expression, but you register it from within, so that the impression stays with you and communicates.

As you gain greater vocabulary in this language, you will be able to correlate a gesture with a possible emotion.

As your sensitivity increases, you will begin to notice more and more of what you have been missing.

And equally important, you will discover a new and deeper way of relating to people, with the increased social powers this will bring you.

Keys to Human Nature

We humans are consummate actors.

We are all such good actors that we’re not even aware of this as it happens.

We take these skills for granted, but to see them in action, try to look at yourself as you interact with different members of your family and with you boss and colleagues at work.

You will see yourself subtly changing what you say, your tone of voice, your mannerisms, your whole body language, to suit each individual and situation.

If the theater and actors were traditionally represented by the image of masks, writers such as Shakespeare are implying that all of us are constantly wearing masks.

People with consummate acting skills can better navigate our complex social environments and get ahead.

We have a continual desired to communicate our feelings and yet at the same time the need to conceal them for proper social functioning.

Our real feelings continually leak out in the form of gestures, tones of voice, facial expressions and posture.

We are not trained, however, to pay attention to people’s nonverbal cues.

By sheer habit, we fixate on the words people say, while also thinking about what we’ll say next.

Imagine, for instance, conversations with people you’ve recently met. By paying extra-close attention to the nonverbal cues they emit, you can pick up their moods and mirror these moods back to them, getting them to unconsciously to relax in your presence.

As the conversation progresses, you can pick up signs that they are responding to your gestures and mirroring, which give you license to go further and deepen the spell. In this way, you can build up rapport and win over a valuable ally.

Conversely, imagine people who almost immediately reveal signs of hostility toward you. You are able to see through their fake, tight smiles, to pick up flashes of irritation that cross their face and the signs of subtle discomfort in your presence.

Registering all of this as it happens, you can then politely disengage from the interaction and remain wary of them, looking for further signs of hostile intentions.

Your task as a student of human nature is twofold:

  • First, you must understand and accept the theatrical quality of life. You do not moralize and rail against the role-playing and the wearing of masks so essential to smooth social functioning.
  • Second, you must not be naive and mistake people appears for reality. You are not blinded by people’s acting skills. Your transform yourself into a master decode of their true feelings, working on your observation skills and practicing them as much as you can in daily life.

Observational Skills

When we were children, we were almost all great observers of people.

Slowly, from the age of five onward, this sensitivity is lost as we start to turn inward and become more concerned with how others see us.

You must realize that is it not a matter of acquiring skills you do not possess but rather rediscovering those you once had in your earliest years.

As with any skill, this will require patience. What you are doing is slowly rewiring your brain through practice, mapping new neuronal connections.

In a casual conversation with someone, give yourself the goal of observing one or two facial expressions that seem to go against what the person is saying or indicate some additional information. Be attention to microexpressions, quick flashed on the face of tension, or forced smiles.

Once you find it easier to notice cues from the face, attempt to make similar observation about an individual’s voice, noting any changes in pitch or the pace of talking. The voice says a lot about people’s level of confidence and their contentment.

Later on graduate to elements of body language – such as posture, hand gestures, positioning of legs.

Write down any observations, particularly any patterns you notice.

You must be engaged in the conversation while talking less and trying to get them to talk more.

Try to mirror them, making comments that play off something they have said and reveal you are listening to them.

This will have the effect of making them relax and want to talk more, which will make them leak out more nonverbal cues.

But your observing of people must never be obvious.

In observing any particular individual over time, you need to establish their baseline expression and mood.

Aware of a person’s usual demeanor, you can pay greater attention to any deviations – for instance, sudden animation in someone who is generally reserved, or a relaxed look from the habitually nervous.

Related to the baseline expression, try to observe the same person in different settings, noticing how their nonverbal cues change if they are talking to a spouse, a boss, an employee.

Pay great attention to any mixed signals you pickup up: a person professes to love your idea, but their face shows tension and their tone of voice is strained; or they congratulate you on your promotion, but the smile is forced and the expression seems sad.

With mixed signals, you need to be aware that a great part of nonverbal communication involves leakage of negative emotions, and you need to give greater weight to the negative cue as indicative of the person’s true feelings.

Sit in a cafe’ or some public space, and without the burden of having to be involved in a conversation, observe the people around you.

Listen in on their conversations for vocal cues.

Take note of walking styles and overall body language. If possible, take notes.

As you get better at this, you can try to guess people’s profession by the cues you pick up, or something about their personality from their body language. It should be a pleasurable game.

As you progress, you will be able to split your attention more easily – listening attentively to what people have to say, but also taking careful not of nonverbal cues.

Remember that everything people do is a sign of some sort; there is no such thing as a gesture that does not communicate.

You will pay attention to people’s silences, the clothes they wear, the arrangement of objects on their desk, their breathing patterns, the tension in certain muscles, the subtext in their conversations – what is not said or what is implied.

In practicing this skill you must be aware of some common errors you can fall into.

Words express direct information. Nonverbal cues are much more ambiguous and indirect.

There is no dictionary to tell you what this or that means. It depends on the individual and context.

If you are not careful, you will glean signs but quickly interpret them to fit your own emotional biases about people, which will make your observations not only useless but also dangerous.

We rush to the first explanation that fits what we want to see.

Keep in mind that people from different cultures will consider different forms of behavior acceptable. These are known as display rules.

In some cultures people are conditioned to smile less or touch more. Or their language involves greater emphasis on vocal pitch.

Always consider the cultural background of people and interpret cues accordingly.

As part of your practice, try to observe yourself as well. Becoming acutely aware of your own nonverbal behavior will make our more sensitive and alert to the signals of others.

Finally, in developing these observational skills you will notice a physical change in yourself and in your relation to people. You will become increasingly sensitive to people’s shifting moods and even anticipate them as you feel inside something of what they’re feeling.

Decoding Keys

Remember that people are generally trying to present the best possible front to the world.

This means concealing their possible antagonistic feelings, their desires for power or superiority, their attempts at ingratiation, and their insecurities.

They will use words to hide their feelings and distract you from the reality, playing on people’s verbal fixation.

Your task is to look past the distractions and become aware of those signals that leak out automatically, revealing something of the true emotion beneath the mask.

Dislike/like cues:

Understand: People’s hostile or resistant actions never come out of the blue. There are always signs before they take any action.

The problem is not only that we are not paying attention but also that we inherently do not like the thought of conflict or disagreement.

Most often, we feel something is not quite right with the other person but ignore the feeling.

We must learn to trust such intuitive responses and to look for those signs that should trigger a closer examination of the evidence.

People give out clear indications in their body language of active dislike or hostility.

These include:

  • the sudden squinting of eyes at something you have said
  • the glare
  • the pursing of lips until they nearly disappear
  • the stiff neck, the torso or feet that turn away from you while you are still engaged in the conversation
  • the folding of the arms as you try to make a point
  • and an overall tenseness in the body

The microexpression is a recent discovery among psychologists who have been able to document its existence through film. It lasts less than a second.

These expression will be momentary glare, tensing of the facial muscles, pursing of the lips, the beginnings of a frown or sneer of look of contempt, with the eyes looking down.

Equally eloquent are those signs that are subtle but can last for several seconds, revealing tension and coldness.

Or you are expressing a strong opinion and their eyes being to roll, which they try to quickly cover up with a smile.

Sudden silence can say a lot. You have said something that triggers a twinge of envy or dislike, and they cannot help but lapse into silence and brood.

People will often give themselves aways with mixed signal – a positive comment to distract you but some clearly negative body language.

Take notice of people who praise or flatter you without their eyes lightening up. This could be a sign of hiding envy.

An excellent gauge for decoding antagonism is to compare people’s body language toward you and toward others.

You might detect that they are noticeably friendlier and warmer toward other people and then put on a polite mask with you.

In a conversation they cannot help showing brief flashes of impatience and irritation in their eyes, but only when you talk.

Keep in mind that people tend to leak out more of their true feelings, and certainly hostile ones, when they are drunk, sleepy, frustrated, angry or under stress.

If you suspect someone of feeling envy, talk about the latest good news for you without appearing to brag. Look for microexpressions of disappointment on their face.

In developing your skills in this arena, you must learn to distinguish between the fake and the genuine smile.

The genuine smile will affect the muscles around the eye and widen them, often revealing crow’s-fret on the sides of the eyes. There is no genuine smile without a definite change int he eyes and cheeks upward.

Perhaps the most telling indication of positive emotions comes from the voice. When people are engaged and excited to talk to you, the pitch of their voice rises, indicating emotional arousal.

Monitoring nonverbal cues is essential in your attempts at influencing and seducing people.

When people start to feel comfortable in your presence, they will stand close to you or lean in, their arms not folded or revealing any tension.

If you are giving a talk or telling a story, frequent head nods, attentive gazes and genuine smiles will indicate people agree what you are saying and are losing their resistance.

Perhaps the best and most exciting sign of all is synchrony, the other person unconsciously mirroring you.

You can also train yourself to no only monitor these changes that show your influence but induce them as well by displaying positive cues yourself.

You begin to slowly stand or lean closer, revealing subtle of openness. You nod and smile as other talk. You mirror their behavior and their breathing patterns.

Dominance/submission cues:

Law 4: Determine the Strength of People’s Character – The Law of Compulsive Behavior

Law 5: Become an Elusive Object of Desire – The Law of Covetousness

Law 6: Elevate Your Perspective – The Law of Shortsightedness

Law 7: Soften People’s Resistance by Confirming Their Self-opinion – The Law of Defensiveness

Law 8: Change Your Circumstances by Changing Your Attitude – The Law of Self-sabotage

Law 9: Confront Your Dark Side – The Law of Repression

Law 10: Beware the Fragile Ego – The Law of Envy

Law 11: Know Your Limits – The Law of Grandiosity

Law 12: Reconnect to the Masculine or Feminine Within You – The Law of Gender Rigidity

Law 13: Advance with a Sense of Purpose – The Law of Aimlessness

We do the best we can when it comes to our career path and handling the inevitable setbacks in life. But in the back of our minds we can sense an overall lack of direction, as we are pulled this way and that way by moods and by the opinions of others.

How did we end up in this job, in this place? Such drifting can lead to dead ends.

The way to avoid such a fate is to develop a sense of purpose, discovering our calling in life and using such knowledge to guide us in our decisions.

Something from deep within Martin Jr. impelled him to create some distance and autonomy.

And it meant going his own way when something deep within urged him to do so.

He could hear this voice so clearly from within that it would echo and reverberate throughout his life.

From then on, in conversations and speeches, he would continually refer to this “voice” that now guided him.

But the voice he had heard so many years before in Montgomery allowed him to squelch his fears and rise above the depression. Whenever he felt connected to his mission and purpose in life, we would experience a profound sense of fulfillment.

We like to present a front to the world that is consistent and mature, but we know inside that we are subject to many different moods and wear many different faces, depending on circumstances. We lack a sense of cohesion and direction in life.

We could choose any number of paths, depending on our shifting emotions, which pull us this way and that.

The only solution to this dilemma is King’s solution – to find a higher sense of purpose, a mission that will provide us our own direction, not that of our parents, friends or peers.

This mission is intimately connected to our individuality, to what makes us unique.

As King expressed it: “We have a responsibility to set out to discover what we are made for, to discover our life’s work, to discover what we are called to do. And after we discover that, we should set out to do it with all strength and all of the power that we can muster.”

This “life’s work” is what we were intended to do, as dictated by our particular skills, gifts and inclinations.

By our nature we humans crave a sense of direction.

A compass and guidance system does exist. It comes from looking for and discovering the individual purpose to our lives.

Each human is radically unique. This uniqueness is inscribed in us in three ways – the one-of-kind configuration of our DNA, the particular ways our brains are wired and our experiences as we go through life, experiences that are unlike any other’s.

Consider this uniqueness as a seed that is planted at birth, with potential growth. And this uniqueness has a purpose.

Normally the signs of our uniqueness are clearer to us in early childhood. We found ourselves naturally drawn to particular subjects or activities, despite the influence of our parents. We can call these primal inclinations.

Law 14: Resist the Downward Pull of the Group

Law 15: Make Them Want to Follow You – The Law of Fickleness

Law 16: See the Hostility Behind the Friendly Facade – The Law of Aggression

Law 17: Seize the Historical Moment – The Law of Generational Myopia

Law 18: Meditate On Our Common Mortality – The Law of Death Denial