The internet is awash with amateur psychology tips, from ludicrous life-affirming self-help mumbo jumbo ("Greet your alarm clock every morning by pumping your fist and shouting 'YEAH!'") to beginner level hypnotherapy disguised as creepy 'dating' tips, most of which you can (and should) safely ignore.
At the same time, there are some basic psychological and sociological truths that not only make sense, but you realise you've known all along.
In the absence of any sort of relevant qualification, here are the observations we've learned to trust over the years, that should help you work, rest and play with more confidence.
1 | During an introduction, make a note of someone’s eye colour. You’re not going to use the information (unless you plan to write them a poem) – it’s just a technique to achieve the optimum amount of eye contact, which people find friendly and confident.
2 | People always have the clearest memory of first and last thing that happens, while the middle becomes a vague blur. So if you’re setting the time for an interview, try and be the first or last through the door.
3 | People’s feet are often an insight into what they’re thinking. For example, if you approach two people talking and they turn their torso to you but not their feet, they’d prefer you left them alone. Similarly if you’re talking to someone and their feet are pointing away from you, they want to escape.
4 | When laughter breaks out in a group of people, each one will instinctively glance at whichever other individual they feel closest to in that group. This is a good way of spotting who is secretly sleeping together at work.
5 | Like all therapists worth their fee, remember to use the power of silence. If someone gives you an unsatisfactory answer to a question, stay quiet and keep eye contact and they’ll usually feel pressured to keep talking and reveal more.
6 | If you know someone is going to have a go at you in a meeting, deliberately sit right next to them. The proximity will make them feel less comfortable with being aggressive, and you'll have an easier time of it.
7 | Asking people for small favours trains their brain to believe they like you.
8 | Difficult though it is, if you can get into the habit of not only remembering someone’s name when you first meet them, but using their name in the subsequent conversation you have, they’ll find you terribly charming and wonderful.
9 | Mirroring people’s body language when you interact with them is a way of building up trust. Just be subtle about it.
10 | When walking through a crowd, keep your gaze on the gaps between people rather than the people themselves. Usually, they’ll part ways to let you through, meaning less West Side Story moments on Oxford Street.
11 | A date that involves adrenalin – rollercoasters, horror films, getting mugged (OK maybe not that one) – will help simulate arousal in the brain, and make people think they’re enjoying your company. Which hopefully they will be anyway.
12 | A warm handshake makes you far more attractive to people than a cold one. The lesson here? Invest in some gloves.
13 | The best way to learn, is to teach. If you’re acquiring a new skill or piece of knowledge, bore someone else with it at the first opportunity you get.
14 | Finally: there is nothing more important to people than their self-image. Figure out how people like to think of themselves, and challenge or reinforce it to your advantage.
This article first appeared on Esquire in December 2014.