What Should You Know About Reading People?

Updated January 11, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Can You Pick Up On Someone’s Mood Just By Looking At Them?

Have you ever looked at someone and thought you had them figured out just from their appearance? Were you right? Or were you mistaken about some aspect of their personality? Whether you were right or wrong, you just tried reading someone, which is a skill that most of us would love to have. After all, if you can tell when your boss is in a good mood, you know when to ask for a raise, right? When you know your parents are in a bad mood, you know, it's not the time to tell them you scratched the car. It's all about knowing what reading people means and how it works.

What Does It Mean To Read People'?

When you look at someone and feel like you can judge whether they're in a good mood or a bad one, whether they're a nice person or a mean one or anything else at all, you're reading them. In general, reading someone means looking at them and knowing something about them without them saying anything at all. It's a feeling you get from looking at them and observing the way they stand, the way they look around, the way they move. There are some different features that could play into your opinion and understanding of them, but the most important thing is that they didn't explicitly tell you whatever that thing is.

Now, many people take a cursory glance at someone and believe they know something. You think to yourself, ”Oh, they look friendly” or ”Wow, they look upset.“ These are instinctual opinions and thoughts that we may have as soon as we see a person. As we start to talk to them or even watch them from across the room, we might come to new conclusions. Maybe you never talk to that person, but you have thoughts and ideas about the type of person that they are based on what you've seen of them. You're reading them, and whether you're right or wrong is a secondary point.

Why Is Reading People Important?

Why should you even bother with reading people? Well, there are several different reasons why this can be a useful skill. First, at a most basic level, it lets you know how you should approach someone. If they look friendly, you might be more willing to approach them with a smile and a friendly greeting. If they look unhappy, you might be more likely to approach them with an important reason rather than just stopping to say hello. If a friend looks upset, you may ask them what's going on or what happened. Understanding what they feel like just from a quick glance can help you anticipate whatever is going on just like that, and the better you get with the skill, the better you may be be at relating to people.

If you don't know how to read people at all, you could end up interpreting something that they do or an action or a facial expression incorrectly, and you may start to assume things about a person that aren’t accurate. Maybe you see their face and think that they are an angry person, when they're just upset about a situation. Maybe you think they look unfriendly, but they're just concentrating heavily on a task. By learning to read people better, you may be able to advance your life in many ways.

Reading people can help you know whom to approach with that great new idea (and when to approach) and whom you should steer clear of. It also lets you know how to introduce something to them, whether from a factual standpoint or a more fun and creative one. Before you know it, reading people can become second nature to you if you practice it often enough. And what's even better is that you've probably been doing it all your life and not even thinking about it. That's because it's something that even kids will try out from time to time without knowing how important it is.

Reading People In Childhood

When you were a child, did you ever sit on a bench at the park or on your porch and watch people walk by? You probably did at some point, even if it was just for a few minutes. And then you look at the people and create stories. If they're walking a dog, maybe they're a dog walker on their way to the park. If they're carrying a briefcase and walking quickly, they're late to a big meeting (of course, that meeting might have been with aliens in your young mind, but you get the general idea). You've already interpreted what you see of someone to create a story about them.

Can You Pick Up On Someone’s Mood Just By Looking At Them?

As you get older, you use those same types of skills to start reading people more frequently and accurately. Your understanding of facial expressions and posture starts to develop a little more, and before you know it, you can look at someone and immediately know what it is they're feeling (at least, most of the time). 

Start Reading People You Know

It can be easier to start reading the people you know before moving on to strangers. These are people that you already know things about, and when you look at them, you can probably see things that show those traits. If your best friend is super bubbly and friendly to everyone, you can probably look at them and pick up on that trait. Take the initiative and look at them. See what it is about them that shows others they are bubbly and friendly, and then look for those traits in other people around you.

The same is true for a variety of different traits. By learning what to look for from people who you already know have those traits, you may be setting yourself up even better for success. You'll learn about different things that give away something about a person, and you'll slowly be able to work your way up to some of the more obscure facts and features about people in this method. Plus, you may have less challenges working with complete strangers. Your friends and relatives are the easy part. When you can read your boss and know when to ask for that raise may prove more difficult.

Getting Help Reading People

If you don't understand how to read people, it's a skill that you can learn. It's something that you can work on for yourself by simply going back to those childhood days of creating stories for the people walking by. But it's also something that you can build on even further if you challenge yourself. The key is making sure that you don't quit and don't give up on the progress you're making. You may be surprised just how much you can learn in a short amount of time if you push yourself on these skills, even starting with people you already know.

For those who aren't sure where to start or how to work on reading people, it's possible to get professional help with the process. Log on to BetterHelp, and you'll find not only information about reading people and any other problems you may be facing but a way to connect with a therapist or psychologist that can help you with those problems as well. It's a great service that lets you connect with someone from anywhere in the country, as long as you have an internet connection.

With BetterHelp, you just log on and set up the appointment you want with a qualified therapist you feel most comfortable speaking to. Then, you 'show up' for your appointment. Of course, because the entire system is online, that means all you need to do is log on to your computer from wherever you're most comfortable when the time comes. Just like that, you'll be connected to your professional who can help you work through whatever you need, including learning how to read people and a whole lot more. There are skills, tips, and tricks that you can and should be trying out for yourself.

Online therapy can be a valuable and effective resource for people who have historically had difficulty reading people, potentially due to social anxiety or challenges with empathy. In fact, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – an approach that many online therapists use to treat participants – is the leading treatment for social anxiety and other social disorders. In one study, researchers found significant reductions in symptoms of social anxiety after treatment using internet-based CBT. Greater comfort in being around other people (i.e., looking them in the eye, paying attention to their body language, and asking questions about their lives) can help you become more proficient in reading their moods, intentions, and motivations.


You don’t need to have a diagnosis of social anxiety to benefit from support in learning how to read people. Reading people is an evergreen skill; meaning, we can always benefit from it at any time and in any location. Whether you’re moving to a new country, changing jobs, or striving to make stronger connections with people you already know, online therapy can help you make progress in those goals. Get started today by completing an initial questionnaire to match you with a compassionate, licensed online therapist.

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