A recent report about the soon-to-be-former White House chief-of-staff John Kelly showed his displeasure at Ivanka Trump and her husband by taking uncomplimentary notes on their behavior and leaving them on his desk for visitors to read.

While this appears to be an intentional (if passive-aggressive) attempt to leak a sensitive personal opinion, the story reminded me of the many times I was able to obtain inside information because I mastered a simple skill: reading documents upside-down.

This skill came in handy any time I was sitting across the desk from a boss who was using notes or a document to lead the discussion. Because I could read upside down, I could glance down at the papers and use what I read to:

  1. Anticipate what they'd say next and thus be better able to formulate the best response.
  2. Identify items being kept from me and thus be better able to discern any hidden agenda items.

This useful skill--I'd call it a minor superpower--is absurdly easy to acquire. All you need do is spend an hour or so reading a magazine, newspaper or book upside down. For the first minute or so it's difficult. Within less than an hour you'll be reading as if the document were right-side-up. Like riding a bike, once you've got the "hang" of it, it sticks.

A related skill is the ability to read mirror image text, which is similarly useful when the person you're speaking with has a laptop open or a computer screen facing away from you but which is reflected on something behind them, like an outside window.

To acquire this skill--again, a minor superpower--set a mirror up, turn your own screen around and browse the web as usual. Within an hour or less, you won't even notice that you're reading backwards.

Neither of these skills is something you need every day. But when you DO need them, they can be spectacularly useful.

For example, when one of the companies that employed me started a huge round of layoffs, I used the upside-down reading skill to check out the list of who was due to be fired. Even though the list was visible for only half a minute, but I read it as easily as if it had been posted on a bulletin board.

As a result, I knew that my boss wasn't lying to me when he said I wasn't on the list, which was comforting at time when my level of trust for the company was pretty low. More important, I was able to give one of my friends a heads-up that he'd best take the package before he got the axe.

Note: when I've described this skill to others in the past, I've occasionally gotten pushback that it's unethical. Bullsh*t. As long as companies use asymmetrical information (like secret salary data) to manipulate you, you have an ethical right to do whatever is necessary to re-balance the equation.