21 Body Language Habits to Avoid

There are a number of body language habits that are generally considered to send a negative message and it is therefore suggested are best avoided. I am sure that individuals will have very differing views on these but it’s always worth considering whether any of the following are stopping you from keeping communication flowing smoothly.

1. Frowning – This is very unwelcoming.

2. Making a face or scowling – This can be an unconscious expression of disapproval or dislike. Try to maintain a neutral expression even if you don’t like what you hear.

3. A fake smile – This makes you seem unwelcoming and dishonest.

4. Avoiding eye contact – Eye contact shows you are paying attention. Avoiding eye contact could mean you don’t care about what is being said. It might also be a sign you are being dishonest, as in the phrase “he couldn’t look me in the eye”.

5. Staring too long – Excessive eye contact might make you seem aggressive or even rude. In Asian countries, it is considered disrespectful to look directly into the eyes of someone of high status.

6. Squinting – This is similar to frowning. It also indicates dislike.

7. Looking down/stooping – This can suggest disinterest, or arrogance. Staring at your feet and shuffling them can also suggest nervousness and the desire to get away.

8. Crossing your arms in front of your chest – This is very unwelcoming and can also be a sign of a lack of interest or a refusal to communicate.

9. Holding things in front of you – Holding your purse, a folder or coffee cup in front of you or close to your chest is like a barrier, making you seem aloof. If you can’t put them down, hold them to your side if you can.

10. Standing with your hands on your hips – This stance is one of aggression and bossiness, so it can close down communication before it ever really starts.

11. Fidgeting with a pen or your phone – These actions suggest you are really not paying attention to what is being said. It can also indicate impatience for the meeting to be at an end.

12. Checking your watch – This shows you are bored or under pressure and therefore not paying attention fully to what is being said. It also suggests impatience.

13. Leaning away – Leaning away suggests “standoffishness.”

14. Leaning too close – This can invade others’ personal space and make them feel uncomfortable.

15. Casual touches – This can suggest too much familiarity if you don’t know the other person well.

16. Shaking hands – This is accepted in the West but still avoided in Asian countries. A bow, or a prayer sign (wai) with hands pressed together at the level of the chest is more common there.

17. Using your left hand – This can be a problem in the Middle East, where this hand is seen as dirty and only used for lavatory purposes.

18. Leaning against something – This can make you look too relaxed.

19. Sitting with your legs crossed – This can also make you look too relaxed. It is frowned on in Asian countries.

20. Touching your face – Touching the face, especially the nose, is seen as a sign of lying.

21. Touching your hair – Fiddling with your hair seems to indicate boredom or nervousness.

If you have not assessed your own body language recently, it might be time to practice in a mirror, such as when you are speaking on the phone. Or, video yourself and assess your body language. You may have more bad habits than you think. If this is the case, consciously work towards eliminating them and see what a difference it can make to your level of success.

8 Myths about Body Language

Following my recent article about Body Language at Interviews I have had a number of conversations from which it is obvious that there still quite a few myths about Body Language and I thought it was worth taking a look at some of them so that you can avoid these “fake news” ideas. These myths about body language could be preventing you from communicating with others effectively, or picking up the often subtle clues that are important when dealing with people – such as in a tricky business negotiation, or a dispute with a friend or family member.

Here are eight myths to look out for:

1. A smile means the person is happy

It will usually mean that, but it could also mean they are confused, uncomfortable, or just being polite.

2. Liars avoid eye contact

Shy people do too! In fact, studies have shown that pathological liars often look straight at a person in order to make sure their lie is being accepted as truth.

3. Crossed arms always mean resistance or not being approachable

They can actually mean a lot of different things, ranging from “it’s cold” to mirroring because you are actually doing it yourself. It can also stop people from feeling too “exposed”, especially women, until they are able to relax into a situation.

4. Eye direction

The theory is that if a person looks to the right they are lying, and if they are looking to the left, they are telling the truth. There is really no set pattern. The only thing you can do is observe the person to try to gauge what is typical for them.

5. 93% of all our communication is body language

If that were true, we could watch foreign language films and understand them without subtitles. About half of our communication is influenced by body language, but words, tone and style are key. They should ideally match the body language, and vice versa.

6. You can’t practice your body language

This is false. The best public speakers assess themselves in a mirror or on video to see what bad habits they have so they can replace them with good ones. Good salespeople will do this as well to make sure that nothing they do will send an unspoken message that will blow the deal they have put so much effort into.

7. Fidgeting is a sign of nervousness

It might be, but it could also be pent-up energy from having to sit still for too long.

8. Body language is the same the world over

What is acceptable in the West might be completely offensive in the East, and vice versa. Handshakes are still uncommon in Asian countries compared with the bow. Nodding means yes in some countries and no in others. Learning the differences can make you a more successful communicator no matter where you go.

Body Language at Interviews

As someone who is attending interviews as part of my search for a new role as a Learning and Development Professional there’s lots to consider including of course Body Language at interview.

It’s many years ago now that I heard Allan Pease talk about Body Language at a JCI Conference. I do recall that after hearing him speak I became very focused on watching my own body language! However, with the benefit of experience since then I have modified my thinking but it is still an important consideration as long as you don’t become obsessed with thinking that everytime someone crosses their arms they must be feeling negative – they might just be cold or even more comfortable sitting like how.

It’s common to be nervous at an interview. You might be even more terrified to discover that your body language, rather than any words out of your mouth, can have a strong influence on the outcome of the interview. Here are a few quick do’s and don’ts that can help you ace your next interview.

  • Do: Give a firm handshake.
  • Don’t: Mash their hand too hard.
  • Do: Wait to be invited to sit down.
  • Don’t: Collapse into the chair. Keep everything controlled.
  • Do: Make eye contact. This shows you are paying attention and have nothing to hide. If there is more than one person conducting the interview, pay attention to each of them for a few seconds at a time. Start and finish with the person who has asked the most recent question you are answering.
  • Don’t: Stare. It can start to become too intense and uncomfortable.
  • Do: Sit comfortably, leaning slightly forward. Too forward seems like you are pushy or desperate. Too far back seems to indicated you are not really interested.
  • Don’t: Slouch, or lean too far forward or back. Sitting hunched forward, or lounging with arms and legs everywhere has the effect of looking a little too relaxed.
  • Don’t: Be too rigid. Try not to sit like a statue bolt upright in your chair with your fists bunched tightly. Act as naturally as you can considering the formality of this type of conversation.
  • Do: Face your questioners. This will help you look at each in turn.
  • Don’t: Angle your body away from them. This looks like you are trying to run away, or can’t wait to get out of there – especially if you are partly facing the door.
  • Do: Use your hands when speaking. A subtle message of control is to touching your fingertips together.
  • Don’t: Thrash around like a windmill. It is too distracting and suggests nervousness.
  • Do: Sit as still as you can while still carrying on a normal conversation.
  • Don’t: Touch your face or hair. This can make you seem dishonest and untrustworthy.
  • Do: Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Don’t: Rub your head or neck because they feel stiff. This can give the impression that you are bored or not interested.
  • Do: Keep your arms relaxed and natural.
  • Don’t: Sit with your arms crossed. This makes you look defensive and standoffish.

These main do’s and don’ts of body language when you go on an interview can make all the difference to whether you are successful. Practice with a friend, in front of a mirror, or on video, and start sending the right messages with your body language.