reading the room

Learning to Read the Room

By Communications

So much of what we do in public relations and communications is about developing relationships. Whether there’s a need to create new customer relationships, or cultivate loyalty with existing ones, all the business we do boils down to what’s happening between the people involved.

We spend a lot of time encouraging clients to listen carefully to their audiences 00 to pay attention to what’s going on with the people with whom they engage and rely on to make a living, or raise funds, or keep a thriving business going.

It’s stunning then, to be witness to an example of someone who has failed, utterly, to read the room. Taking a moment in a business setting to gauge the tension, to size up the tone and play it safe by being professional and not overly familiar, is a good strategy. This close to a very heated presidential election is not now, nor is is ever a time to inject politics into a business conversation. Unless your business IS politics, leave mentions of the candidates, their positions and most certainly your views out of any meeting, or the chit chat before and after a meeting as well. How often do we need to be reminded that religion and politics really have no place in this kind of interaction!

Being overly familiar is a tough line to walk as well:

  • Don’t go for a hug when a handshake will do
  • Don’t try to be funny if you’re not naturally funny, and if you find you’re the only one laughing, stop immediately
  • Smiling is better than a polite chuckle. Laughing when you don’t get the joke or approve of it can cause a real problem later: don’t.
  • If tensions are high, ask questions, and maintain objectivity. Gather information before you dive in.


These are important skills to learn and they take time. In your next professional gathering, observe the interactions and try to identify those who fail to listen and pay attention — those who are NOT reading the room. What do you see? What impact do you think it has?