Mental Model

Most experts agree that over 70% of all communication is nonverbal. Your ability to read and make sense of the unspoken will influence the success of your work and personal life. Listen and watch others with curiosity to decode the true meaning of their communication. Connecting with others through the unspoken will become a superpower that few people have.


Success in life is often decoding the unspoken.

Our ability to read between the lines and connect with someone at a deeper level.

Understanding the dynamics and undertones of a business meeting or a colleague’s intentions.

A major setback or painful experience because we did not see the inconsistency between what people say and do.

Becoming involved with someone before we evaluated the compatibility of values, needs, and character.

Your ability to read situations and people will serve you well throughout your career and broader life.

Adopt the strategies below to develop a mindset into decoding the unspoken.


1. Talk less – listen and observe more.

Always say less than necessary.

Give people the floor – they will love to talk about themselves.

Observe people as new terrain ready to be explored – there is so much to see and learn.

Observe what people talk about when they are drinking – alcohol is a social lubricant that releases all kinds of interesting topics.

Give people your undivided attention in a friendly manner – put your entire body into it. This will show respect and genuine interest.

Take mental notes that you can reflect on at a later time when you have more data points.

2. Notice the physical actions of people.

Observe how people carry themselves.

Observe the facial expressions of people.

Observe how someone sits or positions themselves in a work setting.

Observe if someone is engaged in the conversation or preoccupied with something else.

Say something provocative to see how their body language responds.

3. Reflect on their online content and behavior.

Gain a perspective on the topics people engage with on social media – this gives clues to what they care about.

Observe if people are thought leaders that create content or pretend to be by sharing the content of others.

Observe if people are trying to impress others online or if they are confident with who they are and their achievements.

4. Discount first impressions.

Resist the temptation to quickly characterize people or make assumptions based on initial engagement.

People want to make a first impression that aligns with their positioning of who they want to be.

Form a point of view only after multiple interactions over an adequate period – time tells who people are.

5. Discount physical appearances.

Understand that the world is a stage that brings out the spectacles in people – acting is necessary and a part of life.

Some people dress expensive and act expensive because that is who they want to be – it’s not who they are.

Treat people with respect and kindness – you have no idea of the path they have walked.

6. Study these as cues into their life and character.

Develop a hypothesis of what people may be feeling or hiding based on your observations.

Realize that “unusual” behavior may not be unusual – timing and conditions may have been perfect.

Look for disconnects between what people say and what they do.

Reduce the risk of negative surprises by developing hypotheses of someone’s likely intent.

Expect that demonstrated actions are a good predictor of future behavior.

Experiment With

  • Most people naturally like to talk during meetings. They feel a need to exert their influence but they can often overlook the unspoken vibes that are present. During a meeting, look around the room to identify potential cues into what is really going on.
  • Thinking about a recent encounter with someone, what was revealed through the unspoken?
  • Based on your observations and deductions, is there someone that needs your help?
  • Thinking back to the first impression of someone that you misread, what clue did you miss, or what did you assume?
  • Thinking back, was there a setback or painful experience you could have prevented if you had decoded the unspoken?


The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene

  • Chapter 3 – See Through People’s Masks
  • Chapter 9 – Confront the Dark Side
  • Chapter 16 – See the Hostility Behind the Friendly Facade

The 48 Laws of Power – by Robert Greene

  • Law 4 – Always Say Less Than Necessary
  • Law 37 – Create Compelling Spectacles

The 33 Strategies of War – by Robert Greene

  • Chapter 13 – Know Your Enemy: The Intelligence Strategy

You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself – by Harry Beckwith and Christine K. Clifford (Two Key Skills: Listening and Speaking)

Stillness Is the Key – by Ryan Holiday (Slow Down, Think Deeply)