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Great Leaders Can Read Your Mind – Here’s How They Do It

Have you ever had the sense someone is so in tune with you that they are reading your mind?

Have you ever had the sense someone is so in tune with you that they are reading your mind? It’s a powerful and persuasive connection that provides the experience of being truly in step with each other.

Photo: Stephen McGarvey | Courtesy Photo
Photo: Stephen McGarvey | Courtesy Photo

Some people are naturally in tune with others. How do they do it? Is it an innate quality or a learned skill? Can you develop the ability and use it to be a better leader in any area of your life? The truth is you can be a mind reader without reading minds.


Discovering other people’s state of mind

Simply take the time to uncover the state of mind of the person with whom you’re interacting. I call this the current state, which is a term that expresses how someone is currently experiencing the world. Knowing an individual’s current state is the foundation of a comprehensive strategy for mapping out an effective process of persuasion. It requires an understanding of what that person is thinking, feeling, and doing.

Uncovering a person’s current state is always the first step to moving them to the desired state. Just like navigating within a city, to move someone to where you want them to be, you first need to know where they are. To give someone the feeling that you have read their mind, you need to pay attention to their current state, namely their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.


Pay attention to a person’s thoughts

Any concept that flickers in our head, however quickly, is a thought. Some are more frequent and ingrained than others, and all thoughts – big and small, conscious, and unconscious – are worth paying attention to. Of course, we cannot hear another person’s thoughts, yet people share information that reveals their thinking all the time.

What mental strategies does an individual use to interpret and interact with the world around them? What are their beliefs, values, and criteria? All this information is accessible when you listen with purpose.

For example, let’s say you’re listening to someone, let’s call him Kobe, speak about an upcoming project. By asking Kobe thoughtful, open-ended questions you can begin to get a sense of his current state. Let’s say you ask Kobe what his thoughts are about being part of the web development team for a new project and he says:

“I’m really looking forward to doing this new project, however, I don’t see how we are going to get everyone in line. I know Judith isn’t on board with it because she thinks the timeline is too challenging with so many people off. That’s concerning because Judith usually sees the positive and rallies people around her, especially as a deadline is approaching. I guess I also have my own misgivings that the end product the client is looking for has too many constraints. I’d much rather do a project that lets me be more creative and look for unique solutions.”

Kobe has told us what he thinks. Now reflect on how he thinks. Is he expressing himself in language that is more visual (from my perspective), more auditory (I heard), or more kinesthetic (move forward)? While everyone uses a bit of all three of these thinking styles at various times, Kobe is communicating to us that, at this moment, his thinking is primarily visual. You can tell this from his use of language, like “I don’t see” and “the client is looking for.”

Now that you know how Kobe is thinking, you can build rapport (give the experience of being understood) by matching his visual language, which will show Kobe that you are seeing things from the same perspective.


Pay attention to feelings and state of being

While you’re listening for what and how people think, pay close attention to their feelings and states, too. Feelings include a whole range of positive and negative emotional states. When you have built rapport, people are more likely to tell you how they are feeling.

Kobe initially expressed excitement, skepticism, hesitation, and doubt about the new project. All emotions, regardless of intensity, impact a person’s current state, and some feelings will function as roadblocks to the desired state, while others will serve as important motivational factors. For example, a sense of urgency will drive me towards something, while a state of complacency will keep me stuck where I am.


Pay attention to behavior

While Kobe is talking, we can observe his behaviors, which are essentially actions. These actions can be large (slamming a door) or small (crossing arms), and some will be outside his conscious awareness. Always remember the behaviors we see a person display directly result from what they are thinking and feeling.

When we understand Kobe’s current state, which includes his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors at this moment, we can then engage and guide his imagination in a new direction leading to different thoughts and feelings, which will motivate different behavior.

Be careful in how you interpret another person’s unconscious communication! So many breakdowns in communication are the result of the assumptions we make about what another person is thinking, feeling, and doing. Ask clarifying questions to ensure that you are interpreting another person’s communication cues correctly.


Shift from a current state of being

Changing Kobe’s thoughts from “the project is too constrained” to “I can work with these parameters,” will ignite a shift that will also change how he feels and behaves towards the new project. The critical piece of the puzzle is to understand that we can only motivate Kobe to invest in the project’s success if we first understand what he is currently thinking, feeling, and doing.

That’s how you read minds without mind reading!


Stephen McGarvey is an international speaker, an expert on persuasion and influence, and the founder of a boutique consulting firm, Solutions In Mind. He assists corporations and audiences around the world in solving difficult communications problems by guiding them on an engaging, fast-paced, fascinating journey inside the unconscious mind. His new book is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal #1 Best Seller Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior (Morgan James Publishing, July 2022). Learn more at solutionsinmind.com.


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