Adam Nesrallah | What Spies Teach Us About Reading People (Episode 405)

Reading people takes practice.

“You’ve got two ears and one mouth; use them in proportion.” -Adam Nesrallah

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Why saying “I understand” actually means you don’t.
  • What is a baseline and how do  you use it?
  • Are lie detectors about the machine or the person handling the machine?
  • How to be understood by anyone.
  • What is the five second rule?
  • And so much more…


For the majority of us, misreading a social situation or someone’s communication is simply embarrassing or humbling, nothing more. But for Adam Nesrallah, a former Canadian spy, missing a social cue was a potentially life-threatening experience.

Adam joins us on this episode to talk about why there are no shortcuts to being a great communicator, how to read between the lines of what people are saying, and what spies teach us about reading people.

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Adam is a former Canadian intelligence officer who co-founded the Ronin Private Intelligence. His company primarily focuses on training people in the disciplines of communication, persuasion or relationship-building. Their trainings are tailored to your particular sector.

But Adam’s know-how was forged during his time in counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism service for Canada, his home country. He learned two of the most important skills any of us can have are communication and relationship-building. If you can listen properly you can communicate in such a way as to build relationships.

And so much of communication is the in the subtext: it’s not what the person says necessarily but more of what they didn’t say and why they didn’t say it. In order to read that subtext you have to be able to read people.

Adam says purpose-driven communication like this takes finesse, practice and is a perishable thing. You have to learn it, use it and keep using it so your skills stay finely-tuned.

To hone and keep your skills sharp, pay attention to a person, their mannerisms, their responses and the environment so you can become more aware of what they are actually saying in their non-verbal communication. By listening intently and deliberately with practice and patience you’ll have a better understanding of human interaction, rapport-building and relationship-building.

Put this into practice by going to a bar or coffee shop and simply observe people there. You’ll begin to read people’s personal baselines: how they are in a normal conversation. Find out what’s normal for someone and then communicate with them in that way.

And that’s your next step after observing people: interact with them. Give yourself five seconds to build rapport, then talk with them for a few minutes to build a connection and get their contact information so you can practice building a relationship.

On today’s show Adam gives us the third and final step in this process, as well as the two types of listening in a conversation and which works best, and his personal profiling technique. Check it out on today’s episode of The Art of Charm.


If you enjoyed this session with Adam, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out on Twitter:

Click here to thank Adam on Twitter!

Resources from this episode:

Adam Nesrallah’s website
Adam Nesrallah on Twitter
The Art of Charm bootcamps

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Jordan Harbinger - author of 948 posts on The Art of Charm

Jordan Harbinger has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war zones, and been kidnapped -- twice. He’ll tell you the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of) just about any type of situation. Here at The Art of Charm, Jordan shares that experience, and the system borne as a result, with students and clients.

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