Reading the ruffled brow

Reading the ruffled brow

We need to be able to read people at every stage of life and at every age. There can seldom have been a time when reading people accurately was more important than at present. Whether buying from, selling to, giving help or seeking advice, we must be able to read and judge those we come into contact with. There has never been so much deception, so little truth, such indiscriminate lying. At one time fantasy was largely confined to the theatre. Today the stage often reflects reality better than the genuine thing. It’s a hard time to tell who is and who isn’t.

“Face value” used to be the currency of honest exchange. What you saw, you got. Your face is, after all, your passport. Your tongue may curl round specious words, your eyes glisten with involuntary tears, but your face filters them all, etching into its lines and limps the shale of every passing storm and the wizening of each salty breeze. Every eyelash, a sin, every eyebrow, a prayer. No artist captured truth as your face captures you.

And yet there are clues beyond the stark nakedness of a face. No deftness of paint, no meekness of rouge changes the severe lines of a cruel mouth or the cynical dismissal of a kind word. A single correction does not make a new picture, but, as in a well-tended herbaceous border, the flowers subjugate the nettles with practice and worms root out fresh earth, spiralling it to the surface. No gasp is greater than a sunflower’s welcome.

 Is such creative touch commercially worthwhile?

The dog that waits quietly by its master’s biscuit store understands the value of gentle pressure. Barking, it knows, is counter-productive. Diplomacy is often said to be 80% courage and 20% comprehension. There is more to diplomacy than these two ingredients, of course, but if roughly true, then comprehension is for most people the foundation of all negotiation. We learn the need for courage early in life in 2020. What makes that comprehension both better and usable?

Before putting nod to negotiate the perpetrator must assess the purpose, intellect, remit, mood and capability of the other side.  (The perpetrator is the one who thinks s/he has most to gain by a successful negotiation. In other words, both sides.) Knowing what the other side wants out of a negotiation is the key to making it a win-win. Get it wrong and you will negotiate a disaster. If you are right, however, your chances of success are high.

S/he must then devise a strategy which, on the one hand, takes account of these assumptions and, on the other hand, leaves scope for flexibility. Negotiators love to feel that they ‘got a little bit extra’. So work out what the potential extras are from your point of view. I am not talking about a night at the brothel or other blatant bribery modes but real, useful (if only in a minor way) extras.

I once bought a substantial business for less than its value by offering the owners six months tenure as managers, reporting to me. I had read a ruffled brow on the senior of the three brothers from whom I bought it. There was a sad reason for this, as I subsequently discovered, but I didn’t know that when negotiating. Thank goodness; it would have affected my negotiating stance. The reading was correct and we bought the business. The apparent continuity of management made the integration of the two businesses much easier than it might otherwise have been.

There is more to reading people than spotting the ruffled brows. It pays to create a story around the person with whom you are negotiating. If I were discussing UK’s future position with the EU I would have good stories about Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator. Some of them would be about his ambitions, some about his frustrations, a few dealing with his love / hate of publicity, the occasional guess about his home life and his ability to relax. All of them, whether accurate or not, would add colour to the slightly cardboard image we get of him on the news.

Of course, the more accurate they are the better they would serve our purpose but even if the details are wrong, practice makes for improvement in character construction. And it is the ability to add the flesh to someone’s character that makes reading people more creatively so successful. Try choosing a person you know, but not very well, and add the character stories. Then watch to see if the evidence supports your inventions or denies them.

You’ll soon see that the ruffled brow covers a multitude of options.

One of them has to be right.