How To Find The Hidden Agenda



When we lead, we know that what someone says is not necessarily what they mean or what they feel. The words that come out of a person’s mouth might not express what they wanted to convey. On top of that, when we listen carefully and look at the individual, we can sometimes sense a disconnect between the actual words and how they sound to us. Our internal antennas set off a “red flag” to our brains that we are not getting the whole story. What just happened? We were the receiver of some misinformation and the real message became diluted. We need to find a way to understand- to process the hidden agenda. Here are a few strategies to start your search:


Our bodies share a lot of important information about how we are honestly feeling. See if the individual is making good eye contact. Are they turning away as they are speaking? Are they looking down? Reading one’s eyes can give us great insight to whether there is an inconsistency between words that are communicated and actual truth to their meaning. What is the speaker’s posture– standing tall or hunched over, perhaps displaying insecurity or uncertainty? 


When we listen carefully, do we hear some anger or frustration by the way the message is conveyed? Is the volume particularly loud or soft? Are they speaking too quickly so that it is difficult to catch what is being said? Does the tone match the words?


When a speaker shares their message and they are honest about their words, they have matching facial expressions. If they are telling you something sad or upsetting, they might have a frown, while they might have a smile and bright eyes if they are sharing something positive. If there are opposing facial looks to the words being said, there may be a misconstrued message being broadcast.


Some of us use our hands more, but our hand movements usually help us to communicate more effectively. Our hands support our spoken ideas and help us to make a clear point. If we want to be more forceful we might make a fist or if we want to show we care, we might touch someone gently. What is the speaker doing with their hands and is it consistent with the message?


When we speak with someone and we are unclear about the words being shared, it is helpful to ask the important open-ended questions: who, what, where, when, how. The answers can sometimes put things into context and aid us in evaluating the true meaning of the words being spoken. The questions should be thoughtful, while never putting the individual on the defensive. Avoid blaming or accusing and remain calm.


After digesting all the hints and insights into what is actually being said, it is always a good idea to step back and process. Ask yourself: Did I read anything more than I should have into this message? Am I adding my own baggage to the words being spoken? Do I feel confident that I understand what is actually being said? Have I delved deeply enough to analyze the true hidden agenda?

How do you make sure you understand what is behind the spoken words? How can leaders be better interpreters of communication?


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15 thoughts on “How To Find The Hidden Agenda

  1. Terri – I enjoy your writing and how we need to approach the other with caution. I would add that questions can diffuse any hidden agenda. While maintaining a cordial relationship, it is always appropriate to indicate when you are surprised, or when something doesn’t seem right. The key is to approach the speaker with I-statements and an honest desire to learn. “I am still wondering how …” “When I run the numbers I don’t get …” “I am still puzzled why you …” which may lead to “The way I see it is this…” So I enjoy your words today and look forward to reading more feedback!

  2. Hi Terri

    These are great ways to determine whether a person is being deceptive or stressed during a conversation. I used them a lot as an FBI agent in interviews and interrogations. It’s a good idea to look for clusters of body language and verbal cues. If someone scratches their head, they could be frustrated….or they could have dandruff, so it’s good to see where else they might be signaling.

    I agree about eyes….so important.


  3. Terri, Loved all the points you have mentioned. Three of my favorites is “Ask questions” , “Body Language” and ” Reflect Back”

    Thank you for your insights that you bring to your posts.

  4. Great points, Terri. These signs help us determine what may be really going on. Asking questions is key way to dig deeper and see if the answers hold together and create a consistent story. We need to be mindful, inquisitive, and calm through it all. Jon

  5. David, you are right about using those powerful, “I” messages, for they help us take responsibility for our actions without blaming or accusing the other person. I even go a step further and try not to use the accusatory, “you” in any response. Always bring those statements back to how you are feeling- “I feel uncomfortable when I hear those words.” As you also mention, questions can help diffuse as well as get to the bottom of what is actually being said. Remaining calm and professional is key. Thanks for all your wonderful additions!

  6. Hi LaRae
    I was hoping you would add some of your further FBI insights to this post! You must know so much about reading faces and body language and I would love to hear more about it. When leaders become comfortable in understanding eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures they are able to cut to the real meaning of the message. These are skills we can actually learn to be more proficient in. Thanks for commenting and sharing!


  7. Hi Lalita
    I am glad you enjoyed the post and connected with some of my points regarding hidden messages! When we take the time to step back and connect the dots, we can often get a bigger and truer picture of what is being said. Always good to reflect. Thanks!

  8. Hi Jon,
    You make a great suggestion here about needing to be mindful and inquisitive. Sometimes leaders get frustrated by the inconsistency of a message, but don’t take the time to be curious and investigate what is actually going on. If we don’t explore what the true “hidden agenda” is, we might not be able to address the real issues. Thanks!

  9. I love that word “curious,” Terri. It is so non-judgmental. My story with that word goes back two or more years when my ex and I had 18 months of marriage therapy. Although we grew apart and although I didn’t have a lot of respect for the therapist, what was drilled in my head was the value of coming to a conversation setting with curiosity. You can’t go wrong with that. Although I didn’t care for the therapist or the process during the break-up, it did help shape me into the person who could write comments like the one above. So cheers!

  10. Terri –

    Great post! You’ve really hit on all of the things that we should be looking for and listening to – including ourselves! I’ve found that I can amplify (and sometimes create out of thin air) other’s agendas with my own assumptions. Other times, by checking with my gut I realize that there is absolutely a hidden agenda and the next step is to decide how I will act and react based on that information. Good stuff, Terri! Thanks!

  11. Thanks for sharing that personal story, David for it shows how open-minded you are and eager to learn and grow. When we are curious, we are able to approach new things as true learning opportunities. Appreciate your continued exchange of ideas!

  12. Alli,
    Similar to you, I too can sometimes see beneath the surface of a conversation and discover the hidden meaning of the message being delivered. You are right that we should try to avoid interjecting our “baggage” on a situation and avoid storytelling in our minds that may not be applicable to a situation. Staying neutral will never be my thing, but I have learned to do lot more active listening in order to truly understand. Thanks again for all your great insights!

  13. What a great post!

    Watch what we don’t say.

    Watch what our bodies are saying.

    Watch what are our eyes are reflecting.

    Such a fantastic post. Really made me think!

    Thanks for sharing such great content.


  14. Love your idea, Lolly, about watching what we don’t say! That’s a great way to put it because the words are only a small fraction of our communication. I have learned through the years to look for what other peoples’ eyes are saying for our eyes do tell the truth. Thanks for the great additions! I appreciate you!

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