Have you ever given someone the wrong idea or the wrong impression? You might hear someone say with surprise, “Oh, I thought you were mad,” or, “You didn’t seem interested to me at all.” It could be the result of bad body language. Unknowingly we project with our body language subtle and not-so-subtle cues that other people pick up on readily. If you have some bad habits, people can even unconsciously perceive you as someone with a personality dominated by anxiety, anger, timidity, insecurity, and disinterest. People can become defensive or may become turned off to you altogether just because of a few bad cues. Here are 30 recommendations about body language that could be undermining you by either giving the wrong impression or giving away true negative feelings or thoughts you’d rather keep to yourself.
1. Don’t Scratch Your Nose
By touching your nose too much, someone might think you are lying. Yes, it is allergy season, or you just had a run in with your Aunt Mildred’s very friendly feline and you’re allergic to cats. You know that. But the more you touch your nose, the more you are signaling unwittingly to someone that doesn’t know you that you’re anxious about something. The clinical reason for scratching your nose is this: when your blood pressure goes up, blood flow to the nose increases, causing tissues and mast cells to dilate. The mast cells may then begin to release histamine. If it is a real itch, people generally rub their nose vigorously once. If someone just touches their nose lightly but repeatedly, someone might be trying to be deceptive, or they have something to hide, according to some body language specialists.
2. Don’t Blink So Much
Rapid fire blinking could be making you look nervous, deceitful, or dismissive. You can blame the increase in blood pressure and release of histamine again. Excessive eye blinking can be picked up by others as you try to blink away in disbelief what was just said. But it can also be interpreted by some that you are attracted to the person you are interacting with. What a dilemma! Are you being deceitful, have social anxiety, or are you secretly attracted to someone? Or maybe it was just that darn cat again!
3. Stop Smiling So Much
We know what nervous laughter is usually about and how awkward it can become. But smiling with just your mouth for five seconds or longer makes you look crazy or seem silly. It can also come across as just dishonest like you are wearing a mask. If you are smiling with your whole face in appropriate situations, all is well. But if you are using a smile to cover up what you are really feeling, then you might want to get real and stop the clowning around.
4. Don’t Look Up
When you look up, people might think you are accessing your imagination and engaging in fibbing, especially if they get your left and right mixed up with their left and right. Looking up and to your left indicates you are accessing visual imagery in the left hemisphere of your brain. Looking up and to the right shows that you are accessing your imagination in the right hemisphere. It is recommended just to drop this habit altogether.
5. Don’t Fidget
You’re showing your nerves again, or so it seems. Yes, you have a bad back. a pinched nerve, your chair is uncomfortable, or you’ve just been waiting around for a long time and need to move a bit. Maybe you have to go to the bathroom. Whatever the reason, move around too much and people might think you are fidgeting for the wrong reason.
6. Don’t Hold or Pull On Your Earlobe
When I came across this recommendation, it made me laugh, because I thought of Carol Burnett, a comedian that would pull on her earlobe to send the secret message “I love you” to her mom while on television. But other sources, like Psychologia, say rubbing or pulling on an earlobe shows that you are feeling vulnerable, trying to self-sooth, or are flat out lying. For me, it probably means I wore a cheap but fun pair of earrings, disregarding my mild allergy to them. They always leave my earlobes a little itchy the day after.
7. Uncross Your Arms and Legs
You might think you are just making yourself comfortable, but others are reading your body language differently. Crossing arms and legs can be interpreted as closing yourself off defensively to those around you.
8. Don’t Pick at Your Nails and Cuticles
Nerves again! Picking at your nails is another activity or gesture that could be seen as you siphoning off stress or indicating that you’re nervous. If this is a habit of yours, it usually will manifest without you knowing, so the solution is to proactively, in a situation that would make you anxious, to occupy or control your hands in another way.
9. Stop Aiming for the Door
Are you positioning yourself to bolt? Do you have a better place to be? Or are you supposed to be giving your full attention to someone? If you are continually frustrating someone with this one, sorry, it is just universal: to show you are paying attention or interested, you have to face the person. So you might want to slow down and adjust your focus, even for a few seconds. In meetings, you might do it subconsciously, or accidentally. Aim your body where your attention should be.
10. Don’t Even Think About Rolling Your Eyes
If at all possible, don’t roll your eyes. Rolling your eyes is more disrespectful than if you said directly and emphatically, “I can’t believe you.” It actually might be worse, because if you are not using your words to communicate effectively, you run the risk of being considered rude and childish, as this body language is closely associated with rebellious adolescent behavior.
11. Get Hour Hands Off Your Hips
In some situations, particularly tense ones, you don’t want to put your hands on your hips as this gesture is perceived as intimidating. We move our hands to our hips with our elbows out to make ourselves look bigger and to defensively clear out our personal space. Unless that is your intention, keeping your hands down and palms open. This is a better way to keep the situation calm and the conversation flowing.
12. Don’t Bite Your Lips or Nails
Of course not, you think, but then subconsciously, your brain starts sending the signals to chew on something to release tension. And then there you are, nibbling like a mouse on that little bit of skin or hang nail. Ugh! Gross! Especially if you make yourself bleed. So just pop a mint, chew some gum, steeple your fingers (in a non-menacing way) and relax.
13. Don’t Look at Your Feet
Or their feet, or someone else’s feet, or the ants on the floor, or the piece of trash by the door. Make good eye contact without staring. Looking down and away can mean you are shy, but it can seem that you aren’t interested in what is being said or the people you are speaking with.
14. Stop Picking Altogether
If you pick at things, you are signaling disapproval. It may be a nervous habit, but many won’t read it as nerves, but rather that you are mentally picking them or what they are saying apart. So even if it was that pesky cat of Aunt Mildred’s and she has left her fur all over your sleeves, leave off the picking till you can step away from a conversation or meeting.
15. Head Up
Lowering your head is signaling timidity and submission. It may even signal shame. So unless you want to look sorry, keep your chin up and make good eye contact.
16. Look a Person in the Eye
Bad eye contact came up repeatedly on searches about body language, so it must me one of the most important parts of making a good impression. Good eye contact is considered to be steady eye contact for several seconds at a time. It is recommended that if you have trouble with this, to always hold eye contact for one beat or one breath longer than you feel you want to.
17. Don’t Look Around the Room
Are you looking for an escape, or are you really trying to avoid the person in front of you? Looking here, there, and everywhere is not showing interest.
18. Don’t Cross Your Ankles
This indicates apprehension. I thought it was just a person getting comfortable, but I guess everything means something else.
19. Don’t Nod Too Much
Another sign of being submissive. Nodding some means agreement. Do it too much, and you are indicating something else all together. Being agreeable can be good, but being seen as a weakling could be very bad.
20. Quit Rubbing Your Eyes
What? You don’t believe me? Because the more you rub your eyes, the more I think you are trying to wipe away what I just said because you don’t believe me. Or that is what some body language experts interpret it to mean.
21. Uncover Your Mouth
According to some body language experts, covering your mouth, not to be confused with holding your chin, indicates lying. This is only during a conversation, not when the person is just resting their head. It can also be a gesture that is part of someone’s normal behavior. But in conjunction with other cues that indicate lying, covering one’s mouth doesn’t come across as being thoughtful or surprised but is an indicator that deceit is afoot.
22. Open Up Your Gestures
If your gestures are close to your body, then you appear to be minimizing yourself, which is defensiveness. Opening up your gestures more than a few inches, like when you speak with your hands, palms open, is open and confident. Quick, little gestures are seen as mouse-like and very timid.
23. Be Expressive With Your Whole Face
When you smile, you should be smiling even with your eyes and cheeks, not just your lips, and it shouldn’t be done in a small way. If you are minimizing your facial expressions, you are signaling defensiveness or that you are closing yourself off.
24. Take Notes, But Never Doodle
Are you disengaged? Because that is what doodling signals. This causes the person making a presentation or trying to communicate with you to think they are wasting their time with you. It can be an absentminded habit or a coping mechanism, but it is better just to stop doing it.
25. Don’t Slouch or Slump
Slouching and slumping indicate defensiveness, timidity, and disengagement. Posture is important in the social world, so having good posture is essential to success, according to the experts. It might be something we take for granted, but there are even exercises that will help improve your posture. Many of the exercises concentrate on your core strength. That can only be good for confidence.
26. Quit Playing With Your Hair
Playing with your hair could be flirting, but it also can be interpreted as nervousness. This is cited as something people do unconsciously, like chewing their tongue, or picking, but which has a negative impact on how a person is perceived. People that twirl and chew their hair are often seen as not only anxious, but just immature. So this is a habit that shouldn’t go unchecked.
27. Don’t Scratch or Rub Your Neck
Scratching and rubbing your neck indicates lying. In combination with other nervous habits or tics, your personal stock starts to fall in the eyes of your audience. They doubt you and whatever you have to say, finding it easier to dismiss you.
28. Don’t Pinch Your Nose and Close Your Eyes
Just like with picking at lint, pinching and closing your eyes is a signal that you are negatively evaluating something. A person with a headache or painful sinuses is likely to do this unwittingly, and the problem is, even if the person seeing it knows you have a headache, they still subconsciously can think you are evaluating them negatively.
29. Don’t Clasp Your Hands Behind Your Back
Are you angry or in battle mode? Are you about to pounce? Unless you are strolling leisurely in a 1940’s film, hands clasped behind the back indicates anger and disapproval.
30. Just Take It Easy…
I know, taking it easy in tense situations like meetings, interviews, and first dates is easier said than done. But by just relaxing, opening up, and breathing deeply, your posture and presentation will change positively.
If negative body language is done excessively or in combination with other gestures, then it is interpreted by experts as more meaningful, true, and reliable. Articles on how to spot a liar were particularly keen on this point. However, some body language specialists warned that even subtle cues, like pinching one’s nose while closing one’s eyes, can be absorbed by people subconsciously, leaving them with negative, poor impressions that aren’t meaningful and true. Even when what we are saying contradicts their perception, people are likely to walk away with the negative impression. So whether you are meeting with the boss or having to make nice with the in-laws, it is good to know how some bad body language can prevent you from making the best impressions.