The ability to 'read' a person or situation can seem superhuman, particularly when we see it on our TV screens. But acute powers of observation that the likes of Sherlock Holmes possess aren't out of reach for normal people like us.
In fact, some professions rely on it — especially within the police force.
We spoke to former police detective, homicide investigator and hostage negotiator Belinda Neil about how people can learn to read body language.
Now an inspirational speaker and author of best-selling memoir Under Siege, she has decades of experience in the area. She firstly offered this nugget of wisdom:
"Anyone can develop these skills if they know what to look for, and if they start taking note."
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Paying attention to the people around you can help you recognise patterns of behaviour in both friends and strangers.
Getting to know how people act and react in a whole manner of situations will make them easier to read down the track.
"Take note of the body language of people you deal with regularly. Your partner, your neighbour, the person at the cafe. Note positive signs and negative ones.
Watch people's hands, watch their shoulders. Are they clenching? Look at their eyes and facial features — are they frowning when they're talking?"
There are also general things to look out for if you suspect that someone might be lying to you.
"We have a lot of tell-tale signs — If they're not looking you in the eye, or their eyes are flickering in a different direction, if their speech doesn't flow, if they're fidgety or jittery. It's negative body language"
If you need a little extra help committing these details to memory, try taking notes. Try watching someone for ten minutes and jotting down everything you notice. Just try to avoid being creepy.
Eventually it will be become easier to not only do this in your head, but to draw possible conclusions regarding people's behaviour.
Pay Attention To Your Surroundings
Many of us don't pay much attention to the world around us.
But taking notice of these details will make you more adept at reading people and situations. It builds on your overall observation skills, teaches you to spot when things are out of the ordinary and develop a general gut instinct.
"When you walking outside, take note of your surroundings. Look at cars parked in the street, people groups. What are they doing?
For example, in the middle of summer is there a man wearing a winter coat? Look for things out of the ordinary. It's not about being paranoid — just be aware."
Rather than rushing through your day, try slowing down and paying closer attention.
Take It All At Face Value
Getting adept at identifying behavioural patterns and body language doesn't mean that you're reading someone accurately. Going back to the example of lying:
"They may be stressed or uncomfortable, or even drug affected. Sometimes a very good liar won't give themselves away with these things. That's why it's imperative to read the whole body language but also look at all the other evidence. These are indicators, not answers. You use them to build your suspicions and explore some more.
"If you have a woman who is fidgety, her answers aren't flowing, she's jittery — is she just a nervous woman, someone who suffers from anxiety...or is she a liar?
If you can't rely on everything you see, how can you discover the truth or get a read on someone?
Get used to asking questions and thinking critically. Knowledge is power — so find out everything you can about a situation.
"If a person appears to be uncomfortable with a particular line of questioning, and I can tell by their body language, I want to find out why.
I would lead them down a particular path. Sometimes, as an investigator, you might do that anyway to hit them with something else.
You have to be flexible with your lines of questioning too, you might go off on a tangent and have to bring the conversation back."
If you aren't able to ask your subject something — ask yourself. Why did they react that way? Why did they say that? Why is that important? Why did they do that?
Thinking critically will improve your overall deduction skills exponentially.
Keep Your Own Body Language In Check
How you present yourself can also have an effect on your ability to read someone accurately.
"It's not just about reading somebody else, it's about being mindful of your own body language. You're have to try to read the situation while also remaining neutral, because people can pick that up.
If I'm not maintaining eye contact or if I look away then I might seem disinterested. If I fold my arms...or if I look at my watch, the person isn't going to think I'm interested in them."
Practice keeping your own emotions to yourself during conversations and be mindful of your own tells. How do you physically react when you're happy, sad or angry?
It isn't always as simple and poker facing or remaining neutral.
Sometimes you may need to convey a certain emotion, even if you aren't feeling that way, to get someone else to truthfully reveal their own.
Learn To Communicate Effectively
Being able to effectively communicate is important when it comes to reading people. There's more to it than just observation
"Some people are naturally talented but I think a lot of investigators and negotiators develop it with years and years of experience.
Your communication abilities become a lot better, you become more experienced at reading people's body language and being careful of your own body language.
You learn to recognise patterns of behaviour. If you spend your life texting or in front of a computer, you're not developing those interpersonal skills. However, if you're out and about talking to people, you do start developing those skills."
Now that you have your foundations, it's time to start putting them to good use. It's going to take practice to turn them into habits, but once you've trained your brain to analyse any situation, who knows what you might discover?