Ever been in a conversation and felt like something was just… off? We’ve all been there.
Standing in the middle of a lively party or a casual coffee chat, when a gnawing suspicion creeps in: Is the person I’m talking to feeling uneasy?
As much as we’d like to think our conversations are engaging, sometimes they’re not.
But rather than relying on guesswork, our best clues often come from non-verbal cues. Body language speaks volumes, sometimes louder than words.
Let’s explore 7 signs that someone might be feeling uncomfortable in your presence.
1) They avoid eye contact
Imagine talking to someone while they consistently scan the room, their gaze flitting over your shoulder or darting down to their shoes. Sound familiar?
When someone avoids making eye contact with you, it’s one of the most instinctive and universal signs that they’re feeling uncomfortable.
Just last week, I was catching up with a colleague I hadn’t seen in a while. As I chatted about recent events, I noticed he rarely met my eyes, choosing instead to focus on the bustling café around us.
While a lack of eye contact can sometimes stem from shyness or being deep in thought, it often signals unease or discomfort.
It’s a non-verbal way of creating distance, a buffer of sorts, from the current interaction.
Recognizing this cue provides an opportunity for you to change the topic, ask open-ended questions, or simply give them a bit of space.
In my case, it turns out he was applying for the same gig as I was, and he felt too awkward about it to tell me.
2) They fidget a lot
Ah, the art of fidgeting. It’s that unconscious habit many of us fall into when we’re anxious, restless, or simply out of our comfort zone.
From tapping fingers to shifting weight from foot to foot, these small, seemingly insignificant movements can offer a wealth of insight into someone’s emotional state.
Because that’s your body’s way of releasing pent-up energy or tension. It can also just be a personal habit, but more often than not, especially in a new or unfamiliar scenario, it signals discomfort or nervousness.
Personally I was completely horrible with fidgeting while on dates. I was so nervous around men, and no matter how hard I tried to control my face and my voice, my body would give it away.
If you notice someone fidgeting, try to adopt a more relaxed posture yourself. They may unconsciously mirror you to relax a little more too.
3) They give short or monosyllabic responses
We’ve all been in conversations where we eagerly share a story or ask a question, only to be met with a terse “Yep,” “No,” or “Fine.” It’s like hitting a brick wall in dialogue, isn’t it?
I once tried engaging a friend in conversation after a long hiatus. Excitedly, I inquired about her recent travels, expecting tales of adventures and new discoveries. Instead, I received brief replies like “It was good” and “Saw a lot.”
The lack of elaboration took me by surprise and made me question whether my line of questioning was somehow off-putting or intrusive.
Obviously, we have to take into account each person’s natural communication style. Some people just aren’t chatty in general, or they may have something else on their mind.
But a series of short, clipped answers can be a glaring red flag that the other person is uncomfortable or disengaged. Try changing the topic, and see if they relax a bit more.
Or, check in with a simple “Is everything okay?” Showing genuine concern and understanding can pave the way for more open communication.
4) They turn their feet or body away from you
Body orientation can be a silent compass, indicating where someone would rather be.
When you’re deep in conversation with someone, it’s expected that your bodies would be aligned, facing each other. However, if you find their feet or body subtly angling away from you, it might be more than just a random stance.
I realized this on myself just last weekend. I was sitting in the park reading a book when a young man suddenly came up to me and tried to spark up a conversation.
I was really not in the mood to talk, and not interested in meeting anyone as I’m in a happy relationship.
At some point, I felt a little rude because I realized that my body had turned back to my book even before I had finished answering his questions. Thankfully, he got the hint and went on his way soon afterwards.
My story is a great example of how this isn’t always personal — I had nothing against this young man in particular. Sometimes the person may be preoccupied with another activity like I was, or they’re in a rush to get something done.
Yet, when you spot this kind of bodily divergence, it’s a cue to gauge the conversation’s flow and consider wrapping it up.
5) They touch their face or neck
Do you notice this person touching their face or neck? That can be another revealing gesture that they’re uncomfortable around you, especially when it seems out of context or overly frequent.
During a book club discussion a few years ago, I posed a controversial question about a character’s intentions. One member, usually vocal with her opinions, went unusually silent.
As others shared their views, I noticed her fingers lightly brushing her neck, and her hand occasionally covering her mouth. It wasn’t hard to deduce that she might have been wrestling with her thoughts or felt uneasy voicing an unpopular opinion.
Psychologists believe that these self-soothing behaviors, like touching one’s face or neck, are ways our body tries to calm itself in potentially stressful situations.
If you observe someone frequently engaging in these actions during a conversation, it might be an indication that they’re grappling with something internally.
Offering them reassurance or simply a non-judgmental space can make all the difference, allowing them to open up or find their comfort zone once again.
6) They don’t mirror your body language
Mirroring is a fascinating aspect of human interaction.
When two people are in sync or feel a connection, they subconsciously imitate each other’s body language. It could be as simple as both leaning forward in interest or crossing legs in the same direction.
This non-verbal dance showcases mutual understanding and comfort. So, when someone distinctly doesn’t mirror your actions, it can signify a disconnect or discomfort.
Not mirroring doesn’t always mean there’s an issue. Some individuals are naturally less expressive or might be lost in thought.
However, in the context of a one-on-one interaction, a lack of mirroring might suggest the person isn’t feeling connected or at ease.
In such scenarios, take a moment to think if you’re doing anything with your own body that could be making them uncomfortable.
Introducing a lighter topic or a shared interest can bridge the gap and draw them back into a more harmonious exchange.
7) They create more physical distance
Physical distance can speak volumes, even when words fall short. Whether someone takes a small step back or subtly shifts their chair away, these actions might be indicating a need for more personal space due to discomfort.
Again, I can think of a personal example. Not long ago I was at a party, and someone I had just met there seemed a little too interested in me.
As I wanted to leave, he insisted we sit down to talk first. As my friends weren’t ready to go yet, I hesitantly agreed. We came to a group of small sofas, and I waited until he sat down first and then sat down on a different sofa.
He was surprised and patted the spot next to him on his sofa, oblivious to the fact that I sat further away on purpose.
It’s crucial to respect this non-verbal request for space. Take a moment to consider if you’re not standing too close to them for their comfort, or maybe you’re doing something they’re not totally okay with.
Remember, comfort zones vary across cultures, personalities, and individual experiences.
Navigating an uncomfortable situation
I’m guessing you came to this article because you may have had a recent interaction that made you wonder if the person felt uncomfortable around you.
So I hope that these 7 body language signs have shed some light on the situation for you.
And as well, I hope my own examples have shown you that you don’t need to take this too personally.
As you can see, I have been on both sides of the situation, and it happens to the best of us. We are all different and can’t know all the values, boundaries, and sensitivities of everyone around us, especially if we don’t know them well yet.
Just do your best to make the situation comfortable, talk to them about it if it’s appropriate, and remember that it’s okay to not get everything perfect right away.
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