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January 21, 2014 > Bookworm Column The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are by Matthew Hertenstein

Bookworm Column The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are by Matthew Hertenstein

The new hire came highly recommended.

His college transcripts proved that he was a good student. Professors liked him, former employers lauded him, and he seemed to know his stuff.

You brought him aboard, of course, but youÕre not sure heÕll work out and you canÕt quite put your finger on why. There was justÉ something, and you wish now youÕd listened to your gut. Read ÒThe TellÓ by Matthew Hertenstein, though, and youÕll see how your inner voice can be wrong, too.

For most of your working life, youÕve been told that you have just a few seconds to make a first impression. You know itÕs true because you, too, make snap-decisions about the people you meet Ð but you may also remember times when youÕve been wrong.

Our brains, says Hertenstein, Òpredict, both consciously and unconsciously, whatÕs going to transpire before events unfold.Ó We are Òsophisticated statistical whizzesÓ and are barely aware of it.

The error comes in our propensity toward decision-and-prediction-making Òbiases of the mind.Ó We also forget that Òpredictions are probabilisticÓ and can go awry (it happens more often than weÕd like to think in court cases). And yet, we truly can determine a lot about someone just by watching.

We can, for instance, get a good idea of how a child is being raised by observing its interactions with others. We quickly size up strangers for mate potential (whether we need a mate or not) and we put a lot of stock in the width of their faces (men) and their hips (women). On that note, weÕre attracted to facial symmetry and Òbaby faces.Ó We can instantly perceive someone who is our social equal and, with a surprising degree of accuracy, we can also determine their intelligence, their honesty, and whether or not we want to do business with them.

This all happens, often within seconds. The foil comes because we are Òdismal lie detectorsÓ and often misread mixed or unclear signals, since supposed-Òtelltale signs of dishonestyÓ are, in truth, Òmerely clues.Ó Instead of relying on a gut-feeling (which sometimes lacks in accuracy), we need to Òask more questionsÓ or, if all else fails, ask a child: research shows that younger kids were up to ninety percent accurate in predicting the winner of the 2008 election.

Though it does sometimes descend into laboratory-worthy academia, ÒThe TellÓ is, overall, an enjoyable, informative book to read.

Obviously fascinated with the topic, author Matthew Hertenstein lends that enthusiasm to this book quite well, making us excited to take people-watching (and hiring) to another level. We learn why weÕre inexplicably drawn to some people more than others; how we can predict the outcomes of marriages and sales; how we make friends and fall in love; and how we can be better teachers, parents, and co-workers.

In his introduction, Hertenstein warns that this is not a self-help book and he often urges caution for snap-judgments. Here, youÕll learn why. If youÕve ever sized up a situation quickly and felt small about it later, ÒThe TellÓ is highly recommended.

c.2013, Basic Books
$26.99 / $30.00 Canada
268 pages

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