How do you think you come across to other people?
Of course, it can be tricky to know without asking.
Yet better understanding body language can reveal a lot about how people feel about you and perceive you.
Regardless of whether it’s in the workplace, in social settings, or in our romantic relationships, being aware of these cues helps us to navigate interactions with greater awareness.
Do you suspect that you sometimes unnerve people or maybe one person in particular?
Here’s what to look out for in their body language to confirm that you probably do.
1) They tense up around you
We naturally get stiffer when we’re nervous.
That emotional or mental tension we are experiencing rubs off on the body.
You may sense that their movement becomes more rigid and unnatural.
It translates as awkwardness when you are around.
I once had a colleague who would seem to go as stiff as a board as soon as our boss appeared.
You could see the tension in her muscles. It was perhaps most noticeable in her jawline where she would clench.
It was pretty obvious our boss stressed her out, and this tense body language was a sign of her general apprehension around him.
2) They struggle to look you in the eye
If you’ve ever felt awkward in someone’s presence, you’ll know how hard it is to look them right in the eye.
Eye contact reveals a lot about how we’re feeling in particular situations.
Whilst holding someone’s gaze shows we’re feeling self-assured around them, or perhaps even flirty — the absence of it says just as much.
It can show that we’re nervous, lacking in confidence, or feeling intimidated.
Avoiding eye contact can signal submissiveness when we feel like someone is intimidating.
They may also blink a lot more, which again, highlights their discomfort.
You may have heard that our pupils can involuntarily dilate when we are attracted to someone. Well, the same thing goes for when we’re intimidated too.
That’s because it’s ultimately the same emotional response that’s creating this physiological reaction.
The heightened stress of the situation puts the body in fight or flight mode and gives this wide-eyed effect.
3) They fidget nervously
I’m terrible for this one.
It usually happens unconsciously but is a real giveaway to our emotional state.
Fidgeting becomes a release of emotional energy for a lot of people.
So be on the lookout for nervous movements like:
- Drumming fingers
- Jittering legs
- Tapping feet
- Picking at objects
In order to try to make themselves feel better, they may also subconsciously engage in movements that seek to calm them down, as we’ll see next.
4) They do self-soothing gestures (without even realizing it)
A lot of so-called preening behaviors fall under this category.
- Fixing clothes
- Adjusting accessories
- Excessively grooming yourself
- Smoothing out your hair
As simple and subtle as it can be, the deeper psychological reasoning behind it is more complex.
If they’re feeling intimidated, this is actually an attempt to regain a sense of control.
5) They try to avoid any physical contact or touching
Of course, a lot of this comes down to our general comfort level with someone.
It’s perfectly reasonable to not want to be touched by someone we hardly know.
I always try to explain this to strangers in the street when they try to reach out and pet my dog.
He finds it incredibly intimidating.
It’s not that he’s not friendly, he just doesn’t know you.
People are the same way, we need to feel secure before we’re okay with physical contact.
Having no problem with someone touching you is a sign of ease around them.
That’s why, conversely, people who are intimated by someone may actively avoid initiating touch and visibly recoil from any unexpected contact.
6) They keep a lot of distance between you
It’s not just physical touch that is too much when we’re feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
Personal space is a big deal to all of us.
The truth is we each have invisible boundary bubbles around us that we expect people not to cross. We only let those who we trust infiltrate this intimate space.
That’s why, the more someone keeps their physical distance from you, the more unsure of you they likely feel.
Things like standing an unusually long way away from you, or leaning backward are signs of this happening.
7) They angle their body away from you
Which way do their feet point?
Toward you or away from you?
Similarly, is their body facing you, or are they at an angle to you?
These are yet more little clues of intimidation.
It can be a defensive move to avoid coming “head-to-head” with you by turning slightly away.
8) They blush
Let’s be clear:
Intimidating someone doesn’t automatically mean you are at fault or have done anything wrong.
The reality is that people can feel uncomfortable for all sorts of reasons. Not all are bad or down to your behavior.
They may simply value you highly and think a lot of you. But they’re also threatened by those positive qualities.
Getting a bit red-faced can be another physical sign that someone is feeling on the spot around you.
It could be that they’re embarrassed or feeling shy and uncertain.
It can happen when we have a crush on someone, or generally when we’re just flustered by their presence.
9) They cross their arms
This is another one of those protective body language moves that people make.
It is all about shielding yourself by closing off your body positioning.
It’s not just crossed arms either, the same can go for crossed legs too.
Essentially it’s about creating a physical barrier, which suggests defensiveness and uneasiness.
10) They raise their eyebrows
This one may well be news to you.
After all, we often associate raised eyebrows with a sign of surprise — and it is.
But that surprise can also be more fearful, and be in response to a sense of intimidation,
Especially when it’s accompanied by a furrowed forehead, elevated eyebrows may show someone’s clear discomfort around you.
11) They speak really quietly
Okay, it’s not strictly speaking body language, but our tone of voice along with the volume level also says a lot.
That’s particularly the case if you notice a difference in these things depending on who they are around.
Shy or socially anxious people may have a habit of speaking quietly, whether they are intimidated by you or not.
On the other hand, if someone seems to be more softly spoken or has a hesitant voice around you in particular, it could be that they’re intimidated.
Their lowered volume and cautious tone reflect a lack of confidence around you.
12) They stammer or stutter over their words
Tone and volume aren’t the only speech giveaways either.
Getting tongue-tied is a clear sign of intimidation.
If someone stammers or stutters around you, you make them nervous.
They may find it difficult to find the right things to say, giving the impression that they’re lost for words around you.
13) They have a hunched posture
It’s as if they are physically trying to take up less space.
We often see slouched shoulders from people who are more unsure of themselves.
That’s why we’re always told by body language experts that we should push our shoulders back to appear instantly more confident.
Shrinking postures are a way of physically withdrawing and a subconscious attempt to create more distance.
14) They nod their head excessively
Nodding your head when someone is talking is in itself a good sign of social skills.
It suggests active listening.
They’re not just keeping quiet and zoning out. They’re trying to show you that they really hear what you’re saying.
It’s one of a collection of so-called affirming non-verbal cues we use to offer the speaker encouragement.
Other examples include things like mirroring mannerisms and occasionally saying “um-hum” or “ah-ha”.
But when it spills over into excessive nodding it says something else.
It suggests an eagerness to agree.
When someone is overly keen to agree with whatever we say, that can be an intentional sign of submission.
It’s a way of signaling that they’re not trying to assert any dominance over you.
Why body language matters
Becoming a master of body language isn’t easy. We have to be more observant and learn to read between the lines.
Interpreting body language signs is more of an art than an exact science. But it’s a useful skill to develop.
Recognizing when someone is intimidated by you can help you adapt your behavior and create a more comfortable environment.
Of course, body language is just one piece of the puzzle. We need to also look at the bigger picture when we’re considering someone’s feelings or intentions.
But when we’re more attentive to the cues people are giving out, we can hone our communication to build stronger relationships with others.
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