Susan Ibitz doesn’t hack computers. She hacks humans. Here’s what you can learn from her.

Susan Ibitz doesn’t hack computers. She hacks humans.

I experienced this firsthand during a 90-minute video interview, which I arranged intentionally to watch her in action as she interpreted my body language, facial mannerisms and physical reactions to our conversation.

“People either love me or hate me,” Ibitz, 48, told me from her Ogden Dunes home, where she’s been self-quarantined since March 10. “The people who hate me is because I get them.”

She gets them through her professional profiling skills, often making most subjects feel psychologically naked. Some people have cried during the experience because she can see through their manufactured personality or false pretenses. Yes, even through a video conversation or virtual meeting.

At one point in our video chat, Ibitz asked me to lean in a bit closer so she could better view my facial structure while I spoke. It revealed to her traits of mine that she decoded in a matter of seconds.

“Don’t take this the wrong way but you can manipulate situations depending on your needs,” she told me.

She told me I’m highly pragmatic and impatient. My brain goes too fast, and I continually form new questions before listening to someone’s answers. Also, I’m a social chameleon who prefers being invisible in public so I can do my job of studying people.

“Daaaaamn,” I thought to myself.

With more people working from home due to the pandemic, her skills can offer critical tips for participants of Zoom meetings, e-learning platforms, corporate webinars and virtual conferences. Not to mention co-workers who want to make the best impression online or journalists who’ll now be using video chats for interviews.

“We don’t know if we will be able to ever shake hands again,” said Ibitz, who also lives and works in Chicago for her company, Human Behavior Lab.

She instinctively profiles people without even trying, similar to all of us. Her expert skills and talents, though, are much more heightened. She has learned to unlock the science behind micro-expression, body language, deception-detection and face reading (the science of physiognomy). Her work history includes roles as a political consultant, corporate trainer, and jury selection adviser for attorneys. (For details on her company, visit https://humanbehaviorlab.com.)

In layman’s terms, Ibitz opens the closet of our brain and helps pick out the best psychological outfit to wear for certain situations. The practice is like buying a suit or dress that’s tailored to our figure, or in this case to our emotional intelligence or self-awareness. “To feel secure about ourselves,” she said.

It’s not about becoming someone else or creating a false avatar for public consumption. It’s about revealing yourself to others in a way that’s more accepting and therefore more embraced.

Ibitz has had to tailor her own mental outfits to accommodate who she is — a South American native who’s dyslexic, quirky, Jewish, sports a spider tattoo and assertive personality, and has an affinity for imagery of skulls.

“Your brain is the most important muscle in the body, and skulls protect it,” she explained.

When she was a girl, she enjoyed spending time with her father watching the show “Columbo” with Peter Falk. She studied how the TV detective used his “superpower” to examine suspects. She wanted to do the same for a living.

“My superpower turned out to be the science of human behavior,” Ibitz said.

She looks for combinations of 235 facial features to profile people, including the spatial difference from their eyes and ears. Even the shape of their eyebrows. She asked me to turn my head to the side to get a better view of my face. I cautiously obliged.

“You like facts, data and structure,” she said.

She suggested I stop charging my smartphone on my nightstand (which I do), so my brain can get some rest with my body. She explained how I suffer from procrastination caused by striving for perfection or from over-analyzation. Yes, and yes, I thought.

She watched to see what my hands were doing while we chatted. I told her I’m not very expressive, physically. Most of the time I feel as demonstrative as a doorknob. “You’re expressive as any other person,” she replied. “You’re just not conscious of it. You’re not aware how much you talk with your hands.”

I’ve found myself watching my own hands, as if I didn’t control them.

It takes only three seconds to make a first impression, she said, not three minutes or 30 minutes. What are we conveying in that flash of time? What are we now expressing through all of our virtual meetings and video conversations? For some of us, interacting this way feels like jamming a bamboo shoot underneath our fingernails, she admitted.

“I’m self-conscience, too,” Ibitz told me when I asked to take a photo of her image on my smartphone.

She places a small sticker on her camera to remind her to speak in that direction, not at the screen reflecting her image.

“We need to be camera ready,” she said.

For professional settings, if company code calls for business attire then it should be obeyed virtually as well. Even if you haven’t showered in three days. Also, don’t hide behind your desk or phone. Don’t wear a cap. Don’t boast about your organizational skills if a messy house can be seen behind you.

Make sure the angle of your phone or camera is at a 90-degree angle, not too high, not too low. Keep your hands visible. Use proper lighting. Don’t talk with too high of a pitch, or too fast, which can be annoying. Watch yourself on video to learn what traits should be altered or stopped.

“You need to know who is in front of you. The way we communicate has changed so much that reading body language from video conferences will be crucial,” said Ibitz, a guest lecturer at Loyola University Chicago’s criminology department.

“There’s 5,000 years of science behind what I do,” she said.

Originally published at https://www.chicagotribune.com on May 1, 2020.