The secrets in your scribble

Graphologist Michal Naftali can read the writing on the wall.

Graphologist Michal Naftali 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Graphologist Michal Naftali 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Some years ago, the mayor of a large city was looking to hire a director-general for her office, so, being a believer in graphology, she turned for help to one of the most veteran, reputable people in the field, Michal Naftali.
“The mayor had 10 candidates for the job, and she sent me their handwriting samples – written answers to a five-page questionnaire I gave her,” says Naftali in her office in Hod Hasharon, insisting that the mayor’s name and city not be published. “But it’s not enough for me to see the candidates’ handwriting – I also have to see the handwriting of the person they’re going to be working under, or alongside, to see if their personalities match, so I asked her to fill out the questionnaire, too.”
After analyzing the personalities of the mayor and the 10 candidates, Naftali recommended one fellow for the job. “Not only did he get the job,” Naftali says, “but later on, he and the mayor were married.”
A city spokeswoman told me the mayor didn’t want to be interviewed about this happy encounter with graphology because it was “personal,” but the spokeswoman agreed that it was “a beautiful story.”
In her office, I showed Naftali some pages of notes from my notebook and asked her to describe my personality. After a few moments of reading, she emitted a blood-curdling shriek and tried to leap out the window, but... no, actually she sat there calmly and described my personality pretty much to a T. “If you hadn’t become a journalist, you might not have done badly as a lawyer,” she said. “Hmm... I don’t think I’d want to drive with you.”
At 63, Naftali has been analyzing people’s handwriting for 40 years. She and her brother Jonathan, who deals with verification of handwriting for courts, police and attorneys, are the second generation of their family running the Naftali Graphology Institute. Their late father, Aryeh, founded the Israel Police forensic unit in 1948, did his doctoral thesis in Germany on changes in handwriting following psychotherapy, then went on his own as a graphologist in the late 1960s.
“I learned my profession from him. He was really a master,” says his daughter.
Most of her clients, such as Bayer, Weight Watchers and the Ra’anana Municipality, are employers trying to decide about job candidates.
The others usually want to know about a potential spouse or are coming in for career counseling. She also teaches graphology at the institute.
“I make a good living,” she says, noting that she handles 10 to 15 clients a week. “I don’t push the career counseling so much because it doesn’t pay. I get NIS 700 to NIS 1,000 for three hours’ work, whereas when I’m analyzing the handwriting of job candidates or marriage prospects, I get NIS 700 to NIS 1,000 for 15 to 20 minutes’ work.”
Among her clients are a couple of moshavim that were considering new members.
“We’ve been going to Michal for more than a decade, and so far what she told us about the candidates’ personalities was more or less what we found later from experience,” said a representative of the moshavim, who didn’t want their names or his published.
“We’ve sent more than 10 candidates to her for handwriting analysis. We’re looking mainly for honesty, for the ability to acclimate to a small, rural community. We haven’t been disappointed with her recommendations yet.”
THE BASIC theory behind graphology, says Naftali, is that “handwriting is behavior, and you behave in your handwriting like you do in other activities. You express your personality in the way you drive, the way you eat, the way you make love and also in the way you write.”
To greatly oversimplify the technique of handwriting analysis, she looks for such characteristics as the degree of pressure in the writing, connectivity between letters, distance between the letters and words, size, slant and how close to the margins the writing gets.
“For instance, a person who presses down hard in his writing has high energy; a person who presses lightly is more retiring,” she says.
“A strong slant to the letters shows sociability; verticality shows a certain distance from people.
If somebody covers the whole page in his writing, that shows he means to make an impact on the world, but if he goes beyond the margins that means he doesn’t respect limits.”
These, again, are just some of the building blocks of handwriting analysis; there are endless combinations and subtleties to be found in writing, layers upon layers of evidence that take years of study and training to be able to decode, says Naftali. She adds that a person can be tested only when writing in his native alphabet – meaning that native Englishspeakers cannot be tested in Hebrew – and that the same rules of analysis hold true for Latin letters as for Hebrew or other letters.
There are a few hundred graphologists here, but a great many are “chapperim, phonies,” she says. “You don’t need a license to practice, there are no laws governing the profession.”
About 20 to 25 make a living, she estimates.
At the top level, she places herself and Haifabased Hana Koren. The best known is Eilon Ben-Yosef, who has a regular morning spot on Channel 2 in which he claims to tell the future of people who give him handwriting samples.
GRAPHOLOGY, WHICH developed around the turn of the 17th century in Spain and Italy, is a subject of controversy; generally, it is not held in high esteem by professional psychologists, with most, but not all, formal academic studies finding it unreliable in analyzing personality or predicting job performance. The field became popular in the 20th century, with New York’s prestigious New School of Social Research offering a degree in the field until the mid-’90s. Today only three small colleges in Spain, Italy and Argentina offer graphology degrees.
There are many different schools of graphology, and even Naftali says some of them are “nonsense, such as the ‘traitstroke’ school, which says you can analyze personality according to the way a person crosses a ‘t.’” The idea of predicting a person’s future from his handwriting, adds Naftali, “is mysticism, not graphology.”
Handwriting tests for job applicants have always been, if not common, then not uncommon here. “The number of graphology tests administered per capita in Israel is one of the highest in the world,” says Naftali, whose father founded the Israeli Graphological Society, which now has some 100 members and holds periodic meetings and an annual conference. She adds, though, that handwriting analysis is not used by what she calls its “natural clients” – the Israel Police, banks and the IDF.
Egged may be getting on board, though. Naftali has developed a system for analyzing a person’s tendency to cause accidents through his handwriting.
“I check for certain personality qualities that are consistent with safe driving or unsafe driving,” she says, not wanting to divulge the details for fear of copycats.
Three months ago she tried it out with the bus company.
Egged gave her the handwriting samples of 10 drivers and her challenge was to determine which ones had clean records and which had caused accidents. “I surmised that four of the drivers had caused accidents on the job, three had not and three were borderline cases,” she says.
The results? “She hit 10 out of 10,” said Shimon Or, head of human resources for Egged. “I have to admit I was surprised. I was skeptical at first, but she proved herself.”
He added that, at some point, Egged was likely to begin incorporating handwriting analysis in its hiring procedures.
Asked if she’s ever made any mistakes, Naftali replies, “Certainly! Graphology isn’t an exact science, and I’ve done thousands and thousands of analyses.”
She recalls once recommending that a job applicant not be hired because he showed signs of “aggression,” which, after the man was nevertheless hired, proved to be untrue. “He had a vision problem in one eye, and I overcompensated for this in my analysis,” she says.
Another time Naftali was analyzing the writing of a paralegal applying to work at her daughter’s law office, and she recommended that the paralegal be hired. “She got fired not long afterward for sloppiness.
In this case I only used one page of her handwriting – if I’d used five pages as I do for my paying clients, I’m sure I would have caught it.”
Naturally, though, it’s the smashing successes she remembers best. Once a company gave her the sample of a candidate for a job in one of its foreign offices, and Naftali recommended the man not be hired for any job that brought him in contact with money. “But the boss was so impressed him the fellow was hired. Later on he was caught embezzling,” she says.
What’s more, in the trial that ensued, the defendant presented what he claimed to be Naftali’s finding that he was honest and trustworthy. “He got a hold of recommendations I’d made for other job applicants and did a cut-and-paste job and showed it to the court,” she recalls.
Then there was a young woman who brought her the handwriting of a man she was engaged to marry. “I told her the man was a criminal, and her family checked him out with a private detective, and sure enough he was,” Naftali says.
“She canceled the wedding, then she met another guy and brought me his handwriting and I told her this guy was no good, either, and she broke up with him.”
Naftali didn’t hear from the woman again for a while and one day she ran into her. “She was married and pregnant,” the graphologist says. “I asked her why she didn’t send me her husband’s handwriting before she married him. She told me, ‘When you’re sure, you don’t need any other proof.’ I told her I couldn’t argue with that.”