10 Body Language Mistakes That Can Sabotage Any Social Interaction

By Joe Epstein on 30 May 2014 (Updated 2 June 2014) 2 comments

The good news: this great breakdown of common body language foibles during job interviews can help get you hired.

Bad news: there are loads of other important situations your body language may be ruining!

Whether you're on a date, at a cocktail party, or interacting with someone you're not completely comfortable with yet in any other situation, the physical cues you give off can have big repercussions. Not only can bad body language negatively inform others opinions of you, but research shows that it can even subconsciously effect your view of yourself.

So sit up straight and check out this list of 10 body language mistakes that can sabotage any social interaction. It's time to make sure your social life goes as smoothly as that interview.

1. Beware of Blocking

"Blocking" is the act of placing physical objects between you and the person with whom you're interacting. Even if it's just a pen or a cell phone, the object may as well be an alarm, subconsciously signaling to the other person that you don't quite feel safe or comfortable.

2. Hold Not Your Drink Over Your Heart

Perhaps the most common form of blocking at cocktail parties is the clutching of a drink like a shield. Psychologists have gone as far as breaking down personality type by the way subjects held their drinks, but even less extreme analysis generally supports the finding that holding your drink in front of your chest makes you look guarded. Instead, hold your drink down by your side, which also naturally encourages better posture.

3. Don't Lose Your Head…Awareness

Holding your head completely level — both vertically and horizontally — can indicate that you're awake, alert, and confident. Cocking it slightly to the side, conversely, can show that you're listening attentively. Be aware of your role in the conversation at any given time, and tilt (or don't!) accordingly.

4. Avoid Angling Away

At best, not facing a new acquaintance or conversation partner can convey disinterest, like you're just waiting to bolt. At worst, it communicates discomfort or insecurity. So — unless some sort of bar or table set-up prevents it — face your partner straight on. You're in this conversation, so be in it all the way.

5. Don't be a Personal Space Invaders

Unlike on an interview, where positions are normally fixed (e.g., by the placement of chairs and the barrier of a desk), you're often stuck without fixed positions during standing interactions. And while standing too far away can indicate the same things as angling away, standing too close can, however inadvertently, signal disrespect. Aim for around 1.5ft from your conversational partner, and pay careful attention to any social cues they may be giving off to readjust.

6. Heads Up!

Just like when giving a presentation at work, looking down in a social setting can suck all the power, all the presence, out of whatever it is you're saying. If you're just having a casual conversation, every point you make need not be earth-shatteringly brilliant. But if you're going to say something, believe that what you're saying is worthwhile, and keep your eyes up while speaking to help communicate that belief to others.

7. Palms Up

Hand-gestures are a whole field onto themselves. But for one of the less-covered bits of useful advice: gesticulation with palms facing downward can indicate aggression or dominance, so use them sparingly.

8. Share the Eye Contact

Be cognizant of the fact that when in conversation with several people, every time you make eye contact with one person, you are depriving someone else of it. While a multi-partner interaction can actually cure the problem of over-staring (maintaining eye contact for too long), it also requires that you parse out your attention to avoid offending any one person.

9. Beware the Business Gaze

The so-called "business gaze" refers to the triangle between the eyes and the forehead, and is said to be more powerful and intense than the "social gaze", the triangle between the eyes and the nose or mouth.

10. Don't Box Out the Room

As if you didn't have enough to worry about just keeping your movement positive for the group you're engaging… there's also the rest of the room to worry about. But still: when possible, try to not stand with your back to the crowd at a party or bar. Opening up to the room invites others to join the conversation, and even those within your circle may pick up on the cue and think of you as more friendly and engaging.

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Guest

Good article overall, but I was distracted by your misuse of 'uncomfortability' (not a word!) when you meant DISCOMFORT. Really, you should know that!

Joe Epstein's picture

Good point! Glad you're not here to see me angling away right now.