I am trying to find out if there is a word that you can use to describe somebody who is always able to understand motives standing behind actions of others (particularly in conversations they participate in).

To give an example, the usage of the word would be:

That person is ______, since he always knows what makes other people tick.

I was thinking about insightful, but decided against it since I see it as somewhat dependent on others - insightful person helps others to learn their unknown motivations.

The word I'm looking for should be focused on person reflecting the quality - it's irrelevant if _______ person shares his knowledge with others, or if others truly know what makes them tick or not.

  • Possibly related: Word for “other-sense”. – Scott Apr 22 '16 at 3:31
  • Socially-astute? – Ste Apr 22 '16 at 13:43
  • calculative, cunning, shrewd, scheming, sharp, argute, conniving, smart – AMN Jun 3 at 11:02

One of the best words to use in your situation is discerning, which denotes exhibiting keen insight and good judgment; perceptive.

That person is discerning, since he always knows what makes other people tick.

  • 1
    But it is not specific to understanding/judging people. – Drew Apr 22 '16 at 2:11
  • @Drew: But it COULD be, n'est-ce pas? Don – rhetorician Apr 22 '16 at 16:36

Empathetic - more "understanding the needs/wants of another", but the best single word for your description, I think.


The best word I can think of (that someone would most likely understand) is perceptive.

  • 2
    But it is not specific to perceiving things about people. – Drew Apr 22 '16 at 2:12
  • Emotionally perceptive ? – k1eran Apr 22 '16 at 11:14

Not a single word, but consider the expression fine psychologist

That person is a fine psychologist, since he always knows what makes other people tick.

be a good/fine psychologist

To understand how people's minds work


Ambitious and smart, you're an Aquarian with a fast mind and a natural intuition. [...] As a good psychologist, you possess a shrewd insight into people's character and motivation...

The Power of Birthdays, Stars, and Numbers

  • Psychology is a professional field of study. I am not sure that is what the OP is looking for. I think we are talking about a natural gift for understanding people that does not involve having read any textbooks, taken examinations etc. – WS2 Apr 22 '16 at 10:25

I'd pick two words and a phrase here:

  • Intuitive
  • Aware
  • An astute observer

I'd say that getting insight into how people tick is half intuition, half observation. Often, people who are described in this way are people who are skilled in recognizing nonverbal cues and subtle patterns in behavior. They tend to understand how motivation and fear affect people.


To emphasize the psycological talent, consider (born) mentalist.

Definition: mind reader, psychic, or fortuneteller


clairvoyant or intuitive are possible words you can use

  • Please explain your answer in full. Why can you use these words? – Matt E. Эллен Apr 22 '16 at 16:26

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