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What is Social Perceptiveness? 12 Skills You Need to Master

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What is Social Perceptiveness?

Social perceptiveness is the ability to accurately perceive and understand the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others in social settings. You can think of it like your built-in radar for human interactions. Social perceptiveness is essential for understanding moods, motives, and even those slight twitches of the eyebrow that say more than a mouthful.

Watch our video below to learn how to master social perceptiveness:

In a business meeting and sense, a colleague is uneasy? That’s your cue to pivot the conversation. At a social gathering, notice someone feeling left out. You’re the one who can integrate them seamlessly into the group.

Social perceptiveness is invaluable, whether in the corporate world or just hanging out with friends. 

12 Social Perceptiveness Skills For You to Master

Decode Positive vs Negative Cues

Socially perceptive people are adept at spotting cues and sorting them into categories. The easiest way to do this is to always look for positive and negative cues.

Negative Cues show disengagement, disagreement, hesitation, nervousness, or deception. They are cues you where you should take mental notes and research further. Here are the top 5 negative cues to watch out for:

  • Lip Purse: When someone presses their lips into a hardline or presses their lips together, it usually means they are withholding something or suppressing an emotion.
An image of a boy showing a lip purse, which is when someone presses their lips into a hardline or presses their lips together, it usually means they are withholding something or suppressing an emotion. This relates to the article which is about social perceptiveness.
  • Rapid Blink Rate: If someone suddenly starts to blink rapidly, it usually makes them anxious. Liars often also blink quickly as they try to process the lie in their heads and deliver it with false confidence. Watch out for sudden eye blinks!
  • Shame Cue: When someone touches the sides of their forehead, it is a subtle form of shame. We do this to block out something embarrassing or that we do not want to talk about.
An image of a man with his hand on his forehead and his eyes closed, which is the shame cue. This is when someone touches the sides of their forehead, it is a subtle form of shame. We do this to block out something embarrassing or that we do not want to talk about. This relates to the article which is about social perceptiveness.
  • Nose Crinkles: When someone wrinkles their nose, it is a subtle disgust expression. We do this when we smell something terrible, but we also do this when we hear or see something we do not like that makes us uncomfortable.
  • Horizontal Nodding: In cultures except for India, Bulgaria, and Pakistan, the vertical nod means agreement and interest, while a horizontal nod means disagreement and disinterest. Watch out for subtle head nods showing true feelings.

Positive Cues show engagement, curiosity, and agreement. They are cues you should mimic and encourage. Here are the top 5 positive cues to watch out for:

  • Head tilting: This is the universal sign of engagement.
  • Postural Expansion: When someone takes up space, they feel confidence or pride.
  • Leaning: When we want to engage with something – hear it, see it, touch it, taste it, we rely closer. We do this when we like someone or something or hear something we agree with.
  • Purposeful Gestures: Our hands often show true intention and competence. When someone has gestures that align or explain their words, they genuinely believe in and know what they are talking about.
  • Smiling: A genuine smile activates the eyes—look for “crow’s feet” wrinkles at the eye corners. A fake smile usually involves just the mouth.

Our Science of People founder, Vanessa Van Edwards, has cataloged 97 cues. The ten above are just the start! Be sure to get her book on Amazon or Audible.

Unlock the Secrets of Charisma

Control and leverage the tiny signals you’re sending – from your stance and facial expressions to your word choice and vocal tone – to improve your personal and professional relationships.

Read Faces

Your face is a billboard that advertises your emotions, and each emotion has a unique set of facial expressions. But how good are you at reading them?

What it looks like:

  • Fear: Look for widened eyes and raised eyebrows. The mouth might be slightly open, signaling that someone is anxious or scared.
  • Anger: Narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow often signal anger. The mouth might be closed tightly, and the nostrils may flare.
  • Sadness: When someone pinches their eyebrows together and frowns, something has triggered their sadness response. It is tough to fake sadness, so you almost always know it is real when you see it.
Three digitally-created photos of a woman and three of a man showing anger, sadness, and fear facial expressions. This relates to the article which is about social perceptiveness.


Why It Matters: If you spot these facial cues, you might be better at telling if someone shows genuine emotions. These skills are invaluable, whether de-escalating a heated debate or recognizing real happiness.

For a deeper dive, check out our article: The Definitive Guide to Reading Facial Microexpressions.

Employ a Tone Radar

According to Harvard Business Review1, our voices significantly impact our impressions and can awaken the senses and lead others to act, close deals, or land us successful job interviews.

Listening intently to voice changes can reveal what words might not.

What it sounds like:

  • Increased volume usually indicates increased emotions. These can be positive or negative. When people are excited or passionate, they increase their volume. When someone is angry, they yell. Pay attention to sudden volume changes to clue you into an intense emotion.
  • Wobbly voices typically indicate nervousness or anxiety. If you hear someone use it, try to put them at ease or note what makes them uncomfortable.
  • When someone’s tone rises at the end of a statement, causing the statement to sound like a question, it could indicate uncertainty or even dishonesty. This is called the inflection question, and socially perceptive people are excellent at answering it.

Watch our video below to get more insights:

Spot Cues of Nervousness

Being socially perceptive means recognizing when someone is uncomfortable and helping to put them at ease.

What it looks like:

  • Fidgeting: Constantly adjusting seating or attire often shows unease.
  • Averted Eye Contact: Frequent looking away can suggest a lack of confidence or nervousness.
  • Shaking Legs or Tapping Feet: This is a standard indicator of nervous energy.
  • Stuttering or Fumbling Words: When people are nervous, they may have a more challenging time articulating their thoughts and could start stuttering or mispronouncing words.
  • Playing with Hair or Touching Face: When people are nervous, they often engage in self-soothing behaviors like playing with their hair or touching their face.

How to develop it:

What do you do when you see someone with these nervous signs? Check out How to Get Someone to Open Up Using 20 Body Language Cues

Communication Skills

Communication skills encompass speaking, writing, presentation, and non-verbal communication. Effective communication is crucial for conveying ideas, managing teams, and interacting with clients or stakeholders.

What it looks like:

In meetings, your points are clear, concise, and geared toward your audience. Your emails are easy to understand, and your presentations engage your audience, facilitating better understanding and collaboration.

How to develop it:

  • Practice Public Speaking: Are you nervous about speaking in public? Join the club—I was scared, yet I gave my first TEDx talk. The hack is to practice, practice, and then practice some more. Do it in front of a mirror, your pet, or drag a friend into it—you’ll get the hang of it.
  • Be Audience-Centric: Before you hit the stage or the mic, do a little recon on who you’re talking to. Knowing your audience helps you tailor your message so it lands just right. Make sure to use the proper jargon according to your audience’s knowledge.
  • Improve Non-Verbal Skills: While you’re mastering the art of gab, don’t forget the silent cues that scream volumes. Stand tall, make eye contact, and work on that radio-host voice. Trust me, it’s not just what you say but how you say it.

Use this template:

“Utilized communication skills in [Specific Context], achieving [Specific Outcome or Benefit].”

Example: “Utilized communication skills in client negotiations, achieving a 20% increase in contract value.”

Read Between the Lines

The written word also offers cues for the socially perceptive. Whether email, text, or chat, sometimes what’s not said is just as important as what is.

What it looks like:

  • Watch for “Just” or “Maybe”: Phrases like “I’m just checking in” or “Maybe we can talk?” can signal hesitation or uncertainty.
  • Decode Ambiguity: “I’m not sure I can help” could be masking various emotions. Is the person nervous? Angry? Lacking in knowledge? A socially perceptive person will probe for more context.
  • Look for Passive Voice: Using passive voice can sometimes indicate a lack of confidence or responsibility. For example, “The deadline was missed” instead of “I missed the deadline.”
  • Note Overuse of Qualifiers: Words like “actually,” “basically,” or “literally” can be filler words that people use when they’re unsure or hesitant.
  • Catch Omissions: Sometimes, it’s about what’s not being said. If an email detailing a project update neglects to mention a key element or task, it may be worth digging deeper.

How to develop it:

Are you ambiguous yourself? Learning how to clearly say what you mean can help avoid all kinds of conflict. Read on: 22 Tips to Be More Articulate and Speak More Clearly

Active Listening

Active listening entirely focuses on understanding and responding to a speaker during a conversation. It’s not just a passive act of hearing; it’s a dynamic process involving being cognitively and emotionally engaged.

One study2 even showed that teams where members practiced active listening showed better collaboration and problem-solving skills than those who didn’t.

What it looks like:

While a team member proposes a new project idea, you’re not just nodding. You’re observing their enthusiasm, hearing their rationale, and asking clarifying questions to grasp the project’s scope and objectives fully.

How to develop it:

  • Practice the 50/70 rule: make eye contact 50% of the time while speaking and 70% while listening. Too little eye contact can seem disengaged, and too much can be overwhelming. However, keep in mind these percentages differ depending on context. Want more on eye body language? Check out How to Read People’s Eye Direction and Behavior With 34 Cues.
  • Adopt the “echo technique”: by repeating the last three words of a significant statement made by the speaker, you can show you’re listening and invite the speaker to elaborate. For example, if your colleague says, “I feel like we’re not meeting our goals,” you might respond with, “Not meeting our goals? I see what you mean, and this is how…” You can even use masterful hand gestures to reaffirm what you say
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions: Customize your questions based on the speaker’s expertise. For instance, if you’re talking to a marketing expert, you might ask, “How do you think this strategy would impact customer engagement?” or “Could you explain how this aligns with our brand messaging?” Using corporate jargon or concepts familiar to the speaker can spark more in-depth discussions and demonstrate that you’re engaging with the content on a deeper level.

Use this template:

“In [Situation], [Specific Technique] contributed to [Quantifiable Benefit], as confirmed by [Method of Verification].”

After mentioning the situation, specific technique, and benefit in this template, you also add a verification method. This adds credibility to your claim by indicating how the benefit was measured or confirmed.

Example: “In client consultations, targeted questioning contributed to a 20% surge in customer satisfaction, as confirmed by post-meeting surveys.”

Body Language Mastery

The art of interpreting body language is not just about spotting a nervous foot tap or a confident posture; it’s about decoding an entire speech without words. Research3 shows that understanding body language can be pivotal in successful communication, impacting everything from professional negotiations to personal relationships.

Watch our video below to learn how to read people and decode 7 body language cues:

What it looks like:

Let’s say you’re in a strategy meeting. While everyone is verbally on board with the new direction, you notice one team member’s constant fidgeting, a lack of eye contact, and a posture that seems closed off. Rather than gloss over these signs, you recognize them as indicators of discomfort or disagreement and acknowledge that the team member doesn’t like the plan nonverbally.

How to develop it:

  • Conduct a Gesture Inventory: Spend an hour actively observing the body language of people around you during various emotional states. You can do this while sitting on a park bench, during a long meeting, or gazing at strangers out the window of a cafe. Create a catalog or “body language dictionary” to refer back to. This lets you recognize patterns and make quicker, more accurate interpretations later. 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions and to identify, understand, and influence the feelings of others. This isn’t just about being “touchy-feely”; people who understand EQ better can better navigate conflicts, handle pressure, and take criticism.

What it looks like:

You’re in a crucial board meeting where tensions are high due to a recently failed project. While some members are visibly upset, you tap into your emotional Intelligence to manage your reactions and defuse the tension. You read the emotional undercurrents in the room and tactfully steer the conversation towards constructive solutions rather than blame.

How to develop it:

  • Self-Reflection Exercise: Allocate 10 minutes at the end of each workday to reflect on your emotional responses to events and interactions. Did you react or respond? What triggered certain emotions, and how did they influence your actions? Take notes for patterns.
  • 365-Day Journaling: Journaling is a great way to learn about yourself and your emotions. Starting with 5 minutes of daily journaling with various prompts can ease stress and anxiety. Learn more: How to Journal Effectively & Develop a Daily Habit.
  • Scenario Simulation: Engage in roleplay exercises that mimic high-stress situations, like delivering difficult feedback or managing team conflicts. Have an observer critique not just what you say but how you manage emotions—both yours and those of others. Too shy for that? Try roleplaying in front of a mirror to boost your self-esteem.
  • Empathy Mapping: When preparing for an important meeting or conversation, anticipate the other person’s emotions. Think through how you can respond to not just their words but also their emotional state. It is helpful to create a mindmap using a mindmapping software like Xmind.

How to list it as a job skill:

“In a challenging scenario involving [Specific Event or Interaction], utilized Emotional Intelligence to [Affect/Alter Emotional Dynamics], resulting in [Concrete Positive Impact].”

This template introduces the context first and centers on the emotional dynamics affected by your emotional Intelligence. It ends by highlighting a concrete, positive impact that occurred as a result.

Example: “In a challenging scenario involving stalled contract negotiations, utilized Emotional Intelligence to alter the emotional dynamics, resulting in a harmonious agreement that fortified long-term client relationships.”


Being adaptable doesn’t just mean being flexible when plans change; it’s about constantly tuning into social and situational cues and adjusting your behavior or approach in real time. This heightened awareness allows you to survive change and thrive in it, a valuable skill in today’s fast-paced environment.

What it looks like:

Suppose you’re in a meeting discussing a project and notice your boss continually checking the clock or appearing distracted. Instead of continuing with your detailed presentation, you adapt by summarizing key points to bring the meeting to a focused, effective close.

How to develop it:

  • Cue Sensitivity Training: Spend a week intentionally observing verbal and nonverbal cues in your interactions. Make a note of instances where a change in approach could have led to a better outcome.
  • The Pivot Exercise: In your next team meeting, present a sudden hypothetical change (e.g., a new competitor entering the market). Observe how quickly your team members adapt their ideas in response to this new “threat.”
  • Mindful Listening: Practice active listening skills to tune into cues you may usually overlook. Did someone’s tone change? Did they avoid eye contact when a certain topic came up? Use these cues to adapt your approach.
  • Feedback Loop: After important meetings or milestones, ask for feedback on how well you adapted to cues or changes. Use this information to refine your adaptability skills continually.

Use this template:

“In response to [Specific Cue or Comment], I adapted by [Changing Approach/Modifying Questions], which led to [Significant Outcome or Benefit].”

Example: “In response to my client’s hesitance about cost, I adapted by pivoting the conversation to focus on long-term ROI, which led to them committing to a longer contract, benefiting both parties.”

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is mediating disputes or disagreements between colleagues, team members, or other stakeholders. Whether it’s a minor misunderstanding or a significant crisis, the skill to defuse the situation and arrive at a mutually beneficial solution is invaluable.

What it looks like:

You find yourself in a heated team meeting where opinions differ, and tensions escalate. You actively listen to all parties involved, acknowledge different viewpoints, and guide the conversation toward finding a common ground. You foster an environment where all voices are heard, diffusing tension and promoting collaboration.

How to develop it:

  • Active Listening in Conflict: The next time tempers flare, keep your cool and let the other person fully express themselves. Use one of the techniques in this guide to get you going: 9 Conflict Resolution Tips to Win An Argument Like a Jedi.
  • Use the “I” Statements: Before accusing someone of messing up, switch gears and talk about your experience. Say something like, “I felt overlooked in the meeting,” to make the conversation less aggressive and more constructive. Always try to start with an “I” before blaming someone else.
  • Seek Mediation: If you’re hitting a wall with a coworker or a project, consider bringing in an unbiased third party to help sort things out.

Use this template:

“In a situation marked by [Conflict or Disagreement], applied conflict resolution skills to [Facilitate/Enable Solution], leading to [Specific Outcome].”

Example: “In a situation marked by team discord over project directions, applied conflict resolution skills to mediate and facilitate a compromise, leading to a successful project completion ahead of schedule.”


Self-awareness involves understanding your own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and drives. Self-awareness allows you to manage your emotional reactions and understand how they impact those around you.

What it looks like:

You realize that stress triggers emotional responses that could hinder your performance or team morale. Instead of reacting impulsively, you take a step back to assess your emotions and respond more calmly and constructively.

How to develop it:

  • Reflect Regularly: Grab a coffee (or tea) and set aside 10 minutes to mull over your day. Think about those moments when you nailed it, and the times you wish you had a do-over button.
  • Seek Feedback: Next time you wrap up a big project or meeting, shoot a quick message to a couple of coworkers asking for their honest take. Frame it casually like, “Hey, how do you think that went? Anything I could tweak?”
  • SWOT Analysis: Turn the classic SWOT analysis into a fun weekend project. Grab some sticky notes, jot down what you rock at and where you stumble, and then think about the next steps.

Use this template:

“Utilized self-awareness to [Address/Recognize/Manage a Situation], which resulted in [Specific Benefit or Outcome].”

Example: “Utilized self-awareness to recognize my stress levels were impacting team dynamics, which resulted in taking proactive steps to manage stress, ultimately improving team productivity by 15%.”

Team Collaboration

Team collaboration is effectively working with colleagues to achieve a shared goal. Successful team collaboration involves communication, mutual respect, and a shared vision. Socially adept people are very good at highlighting and finding their team member’s strengths and weaknesses.

What it looks like:

When given a group project, you contribute your skills and help synchronize team efforts. You facilitate discussions, encourage quieter team members to voice their opinions and ensure the team stays on track. Make a list of everyone on your team and note their strengths and weaknesses.

Name: _____

  • Communication Preferences:
  • Strengths:
  • Weaknesses:
  • Body Language Tells:

How to develop it:

  • Open Communication Channels: Make it a habit to regularly catch up with your team, even if it’s just a quick 15-minute Zoom call or a Slack check-in. Use this time to hash out any roadblocks or to determine how things are going. And while you’re at it, make sure you have the snazziest Zoom background available.
  • Note Communication Preferences: Ask your team members how they prefer to collaborate and communicate. Do they prefer video? Email? Phone? Please note each person’s preferences and honor them when possible.
  • Celebrate Small Wins: Don’t wait for the project to wrap up to pop the champagne. Take a moment to high-five (even if it’s a virtual one) your team for those minor milestones—yes, even those non-work-related office cooler jokes.

Use this template:

“In a team setting, leveraged collaboration skills to [Achieve Specific Goal], leading to [Beneficial Outcome].”

Example: “In a team setting, leveraged collaboration skills to streamline the design process, leading to project completion two weeks ahead of schedule.”

Interview Questions About Social Perceptiveness

During job interviews, recruiters often gauge your social perceptiveness through questions like:

Can you describe when you had to adjust your communication style to interact with a colleague or client effectively? How did you do it?

How to Answer: In responding to this question, focus on a specific incident where your initial approach wasn’t effective, prompting you to pivot. Describe how you recognized the need for change and then outline your steps to adapt your style.

Key Social Perceptiveness Skill(s): Emotional Intelligence and Adaptability. These skills help you realize that each individual is unique, and being adaptable enough to change your communication style is crucial.

How do you handle conflicts in the workplace?

How to Answer: A balanced approach works best here. Explain how you first assess the situation to understand the perspectives involved. Then, discuss how you address it directly or affect relevant parties, always to find a resolution that respects all viewpoints.

Key Social Perceptiveness Skill(s): Problem-Solving Skills and Emotional Intelligence. Dissecting the underlying issues and managing your and others’ emotions is crucial in conflict resolution.

Describe a situation where you successfully mediated between individuals with differing opinions.

How to Answer: Highlight a scenario where you acted as the intermediary between parties with different views. Emphasize your role in facilitating the conversation, how you encouraged constructive dialogue, and the eventual resolution you helped reach.

Key Social Perceptiveness Skill(s): Emotional Intelligence and Active Listening. Understanding the emotional undertones and being attentive to what is being said is key.

What steps do you take to understand your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses?

How to Answer: Mention how you observe team dynamics in formal settings like meetings and informal interactions. You can also actively seek feedback from other team members and supervisors and use tools like Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis for deeper understanding.

Key Social Perceptiveness Skill(s): Emotional Intelligence and Body Language Mastery. Both skills will help you understand unspoken cues and sentiments, providing insights into individual strengths and weaknesses.

Can you provide an example of when you successfully read a room, and it impacted your actions?

How to Answer: Describe a meeting or event where you could feel the collective mood or individual tensions. Explain how this awareness influenced your subsequent actions, whether addressing the elephant in the room or adapting your presentation or speech on the fly.

Key Social Perceptiveness Skill(s): Emotional Intelligence and Body Language Mastery. Being able to interpret the room’s energy and individuals’ body language allows for more strategic decision-making.

How do you assess the needs of your team members without them explicitly stating it?

How to Answer: Discuss how you use observation and intuition, built up by your understanding of each team member’s work habits and preferences, to assess their needs. Mention that you also validate these assessments through one-on-one conversations.

Key Social Perceptiveness Skill(s): Active Listening and Emotional Intelligence. Listening to subtext and being emotionally tuned in is essential for understanding unspoken needs.

How do you ensure you are tuned into your teammates’ emotional states?

How to Answer: Explain how you make a point to engage in regular check-ins with your team and are open to feedback. Also, discuss how you pick up on non-verbal cues and changes in work habits as signs of a teammate’s emotional state.

Key Social Perceptiveness Skill(s): Emotional Intelligence and Active Listening. Continually monitoring emotional well-being and being willing to listen helps you remain in sync with your team’s emotional states.

By answering these questions well, you demonstrate your social perceptiveness and show you can navigate complex social landscapes, a vital asset for any organization.

What is an Example of Social Perceptiveness?

Social perceptiveness can manifest in various ways. An example of social perceptiveness would be noticing that a colleague seems disengaged during team meetings because they make less eye contact and angle their body away when a certain person is speaking. A socially perceptive person might recognize this and take the initiative to speak privately with a colleague. They may find out that the colleague is overwhelmed but hesitates to speak up. They might be able to uncover a secret grudge against another team member that can be worked out. The socially perceptive individual could then help address the issue by offering assistance, redirecting workloads, or informing a manager.

Why is Social Perceptiveness Important at Work?

Social perceptiveness is more than just a handy skill to have. It’s a necessity in the modern workplace. In fact, according to the Carnegie Foundation4, 85% of financial success is generated by soft skills like social perceptiveness, and only 15% is due to technical knowledge.

You might even be familiar with the TV show Shark Tank, where multimillionaires invest in companies with fascinating ideas or products. Our team analyzed 495 entrepreneurs and found that social perceptiveness skills like being agreeable and captivating helped them seal a deal with the investors.

Let’s dive into the interpersonal skills you’ll need to improve your personal and professional life.

Is Social Perceptiveness a Soft Skill?

Yes, social perceptiveness is objectively classified as a soft skill. Soft skills refer to interpersonal attributes and abilities that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance, and career prospects. You can also think of these as a form of social Intelligence.

Unlike hard skills, which are about an individual’s ability to perform specific tasks, soft skills are less about what you can do and more about how you do it. Social perceptiveness is particularly significant as it governs how well you can read and respond to social situations, both crucial for effective interpersonal interactions.

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Master Your People Skills

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