We don't want our kids to be too good at reading people. We still have to survive questions about whether we like the clay ashtray they made us for Father's Day, or where Fido went after that last, fateful trip to the vet. But even though we may occasionally want to smooth over certain topics with our kids, we sure don't want other people hoodwinking them. It's a sad truth but, throughout life, friends, salespeople, colleagues, and bosses are going to tell our kids one thing while having different motivations in mind. That is why we must help our kids learn to "read people." This multi-faceted skill involves both IQ and EQ, as your kids must analyze arguments, understand common tricks, and observe and listen carefully. In addition to helping your kids develop IQ and EQ, you can discuss the following subjects and teach your children to become experts at detecting people's true motivations.
- Raise awareness of the problem. Studies show that 25% of communications involve some amount of deceit. Of course kids normally learn the concept of deception quickly: after one experience trusting an older playmate who says grass tastes like spearmint gum, your child will understand that people don't always tell the truth. We don't want our kids to be completely paranoid, but a healthy sense of skepticism would do them well.
- Analyze motivations. Encourage your kids to be aware of underlying motivations. Some motives-like profit and selfishness-are fairly obvious. Your kid doesn't need a PhD in psychology to know why a salesman is friendly. But some motives-like boosting self-esteem or competitiveness-are much more complex, and often cause people to react in surprising ways. It is difficult to explain to a child why other kids feel the need to make hurtful insults. Still you should try. By discussing underlying psychological motivations, your kids will become better at understanding what makes people tick.
- Discuss the techniques. Everyone has their own favorite technique to get their way without being straightforward: Grandma uses guilt, your local politician appeals to emotion, newspaper columnists misconstrue statistics, and bullies use intimidation. You can help develop your child's ability to analyze motivations by discussing the common techniques people use to accomplish their goals without being completely honest. Ask your son, "Do you think Kobe Bryant really likes those $200 dollar basketball shoes he endorsed or do you think this is a marketing ploy to fool you into nagging me for overpriced sneakers?" Of course your son's response should be "Dad, Are you really motivated to teach me a lesson on advertising or are you just trying to find a reason to talk me out of wanting $200 sneakers?"
- Teach your kids to be observant. Best-selling author Lillian Glass, a celebrity psychologist who writes on learning to read people, credits all of her abilities to a game she played with her father as a kid. He would ask her questions about minor details of their day-someone's name or the color of a building. He would then give her rewards if she got the answers right. This pushed her to be extremely observant at all times, she claims, which is why she is so good at reading people. Is this technique proven? No. But, hey, Dr. Glass's theories got her hired by Dustin Hoffman and Sean Connery, so it's worth a shot. At the least, encourage your kid to pay attention to his surroundings, notice people's behaviors, and be a careful listener. These skills are important for your child even if he won't be the next Therapist to the Stars.
- Discuss non-verbal cues. Explain to your kids that non-verbal cues can be much more important than language in conveying information. One of the foremost researchers on communication, Albert Mehrabian, found that people only convey 7% of information through words, while they convey 38% of information through tone of voice and 55% through body language. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't possible to pin down a single sure-fire way to read people (e.g., "If he scratches his nose he is lying"). Instead, the people who are best at reading body language get an overall sense of the hundreds of non-verbal cues, from tone to posture to eye contact to body motions. Your kid won't become an expert overnight, but you can help your child learn that there is much more than words in any message.