12 body language gestures that leave a bad first impression

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The power of the first impression!

Researchers have been whittling down the time frame you have to make a first impression for years.

Unfortunately, it’s descended from 30 seconds to as little as 7 seconds. Sometimes even shorter.

So you’re under a fair amount of pressure to make a good first impression which is incredibly important both in your personal and professional lives.

You don’t want to leave a sour taste in someone’s mouth at a networking event, nor instantly give your date the ick now, do you?

Luckily for you, I’ve compiled 12 body language gestures that leave a bad impression so you can avoid them like the plague:

1) Slouchy, slouchy

Posture is key.

Shoulders down, head held high – this emanates self-confidence.

Think about how you instantly notice when someone walks into a room with a straight back and noticeable grace.

You don’t have to spend hours at the gym honing a sinewy body, but remember to stand tall and not droop over like a wilting flower. 

This will instantly boost any first impression you make and give the impression that you’re confident in your body.

2) Clammy, weak handshake

Like trying to squelch a gooey, wet, limp fish.

Okay, you can’t exactly help the clammy part (I too, am a sufferer of clammy hands).

But grip that handshake firmly.

Obviously, don’t aim to cut off anyone’s circulation, but a nice and confident grip shows that you’re self-assured and assertive.

3) Nail biting

From a chronic nail biter, I still watch others as they chew away at their fingertips and grimace as it is such an off-putting appearance.

I can’t help it, and the state of my nails tends to reflect my mental health in that period.

But I also know how insecure and worrisome having your fingers in your mouth or clawing away at a hangnail looks.

As someone who is still working actively to battle nail biting, do be kind to yourself if you’re a chewer.

Try the foul-tasting nail polishes, get manicures, and tell friends they’re more than welcome to slap your hands away when they start approaching your mouth.

Nail biting is not only bad for your health but also a gesture that appears incredibly anxious. 

4) Touching your face

If you’re not biting your nails, that’s a bonus.

But keep those hands at your sides, nonetheless!

Stroking your cheeks, tapping your nose, or otherwise touching your face in any way is an incredibly off-putting habit.

It has been studied and in some cases shown to suggest the speaker is lying.

And overall, it suggests that you’re not focused on the conversation or the person in front of you, but instead that your mind and hands are wandering elsewhere.

5) Finger pointing

One that probably doesn’t come up unless you’re knee-deep in an argument or in some aggressive boardroom setting, but worth including nonetheless.

People are not things to be pointed at.

No matter how angry or dominant you feel, keep those digits to yourself.

Finger-pointing plainly comes across as rude and aggressive, unless you’re pointing at something of interest and trying to show the person with whom you’re speaking

6) Fidgeting

Maybe you are nervous.

Maybe it’s a big interview, or a hot first date, or you’re in for your quarterly review.

Whatever brain signals are firing anxiety, try not to react by tapping your foot or drumming your fingers or shifting restlessly from side to side.

Constant and persistent fidgeting conveys anxiety and a lack of confidence, and whilst you might be feeling those emotions, try and self-regulate.

Engaging in fidgeting will only amplify your heightened state of anxiety as the other person will likely notice the fact that you can’t stay still and start reacting accordingly.

7) Crossed arms

Crossing your arms can signal stress, anxiety, or feeling upset. 

It can also signal that you’re just really cold and trying to warm up a little by ensconcing yourself in a self-hug.

Some studies show that crossing your arms boosts brain productivity, others that it’s a great method of self-soothing.

The common denominator is that people just don’t interpret crossed arms well.

Whatever you’re trying to do by crossing your arms will likely be perceived incorrectly, and you’ll leave an impression of being mistrustful, or anxious.

Or cold – and you’ll be offered a jacket or jumper that you really don’t want.

So return to point 1, and stand straight with those arms by your sides.

(Although not too much like an NPC or soldier – we don’t want to throw them off by losing all human behavior either).

8) Crossed legs

Can we cross anything?!

Much in the same way as the above, crossing your legs can lead to you being perceived as hesitant and shy.

Interestingly, one study showed that men prefer women who sit cross-legged (another reason for why you should probably avoid it…) 

Aside from having negative impacts on your hip flexors and surrounding muscles, sitting cross-legged can again convey certain appearances that you probably don’t want so is best avoided.

9) Leaning forwards

I might be going off on a limb here as I know the body language experts will drill it into you that leaning in equals attraction and interest, but please, do not lean so far in that I can smell your breath.

Of course I value having someone’s full interest and I notice when they start mirroring my body language and paying full attention to me.

But there is a point where the lean gets too lean-y that it becomes off-putting.

So lean, but appropriately so.

Keep personal space in mind, lean in when the other person says something of interest and you want to convey your own curiosity, but do not lean so far in that they can see your pores.

10) Hands in pockets

Where do the hands go?!

So they’re not allowed to go in your mouth, nor fidget around.

On top of that, they’re not to be in your pockets either.

Stuffing your hands deep into your pockets again conveys an air of uncertainty, and even that you might be trying to hide something. 

So keep them out of your trousers (or dress/skirt, if you’re blessed with one with pockets) and let them hang!

11) No eye contact, or too much eye contact

The living nightmare for neurodivergents out there, but there is a fine line between not meeting someone’s eye at all, and staring so deep into their soul.

If you find eye contact difficult at points, try staring instead at the spot in-between their brows.

Looking away and not meeting someone’s eye can suggest that you’re hiding something or are wary, whilst never once looking away can make you seem a little too full on.

A difficult balance to maintain, I know, but still critical to first impressions.

12) Phone time

Perhaps a step away from body language, but this still requires your hands and eyes so worth including as it is one of the most off-putting behaviors out there.

Sure, your emails might be firing off and your crush is texting you and some crazy world news just dropped.

But do not let your phone distract you when first meeting someone as it leaves such a poor first impression.

One of my worst date experiences still lingers in my head.

Sitting opposite a junior banker, I tapered off answering the questions he lazily posed whilst staring at his phone in a dark, underground bar.

Eventually, I stopped speaking altogether and just stared at my drink.

It took him a few moments to realize.

“God, sorry. It’s just the boys, sending this Trump meme in. It’s hilarious, you have to look!”

It was in fact, not hilarious.

And he seemed oddly perplexed at why I didn’t want to come home with him once we left the bar.

“I mean, if you’re sure?!” 

He clutched at a few straws and even (in what he claimed to be a joke), offered me a few hundred pounds to climb into his taxi.

Safe to say, he was blocked immediately,

We compete enough against the media and screens for the attention of others.

Don’t start off on the wrong foot by having one eye on your screen, or pulling your phone out of your bag or trousers every few seconds.

Assume that the notifications can wait (they’re probably from Candy Crush anyway), and do this person the honor of paying them your full attention.

Trust me, this will do wonders for any first impression you make.

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