Developing the ability to read subtle behaviors will go a long way–and save you a lot of heartache.
Unkind people are all around us, but we don’t always catch the red flags.
They could be our significant others, our business partners, our flatmates, our parents, our bosses, our employees. You get the gist.
The sooner we catch on, the better. Our mental health is at stake.
In this article, I’ll walk you through some of the subtle behaviors a person might exhibit when they’re not nice.
Once you get a clearer idea of things, you can start moving accordingly.
Let’s get to it!
1) Selective empathy
When it comes to empathy, the old adage rings true: “If someone is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they’re not a nice person.”
Anyone can fake empathy when it benefits them.
But faux empathy doesn’t count.
Empathy has to come from deep within; it has to be genuine and consistent.
I see selective empathy on social media all the time.
For instance, people will act so compassionately for the victims of one tragedy but conveniently remain silent when the same thing happens to another group of people–one that doesn’t align with their interests and biases.
Their apathy speaks volumes–a discrepancy that makes me question their character altogether, to be honest.
2) Subtle undermining
Genuinely nice and secure people want the best for everyone. When they give positive feedback, they tend to mean it.
So when someone has the habit of making subtly belittling comments to others, making use of sarcasm or backhanded compliments, something’s off.
Maybe they don’t have the backbone to confront you about what bothers them, so they slyly undermine you instead.
They want you to feel bad about yourself.
Your joy or contentedness doesn’t line up with their agenda.
Deep down, there’s an emptiness, a void. They want to drag you down with them.
Misery loves company.
3) Clever manipulation
It’s no secret: nice people tend to have a lot of character.
They won’t resort to manipulation tactics to get what they want. That’s beneath them.
When a person is not so nice, on the other hand, they might use guilt-tripping or other manipulative tendencies to achieve their objectives.
In my first relationship, my ex used to throw tantrums like a petulant toddler when I didn’t do what she wanted.
And looking back, I’d usually fall for it more.
I was soft, and she knew it. Our dynamic grew to be one-sided.
Whenever I’d act independently, she’d consider that dissent, and like clockwork, the emotional blackmail would come out.
Sometimes I’d tell her I was hanging out with friends on a particular evening.
She’d react violently.
The crocodile tears would flow as she harshly flung names at me and made outlandish claims, like how I was being abusive–which is ironic… for obvious reasons.
Thankfully, I eventually caught on and ended things.
My main criteria for a partner these days? Kindness.
4) Avoidance of accountability
Here’s the thing: they’re not a particularly nice person if they never take accountability for their actions.
It takes a high level of character to own up to your shortcomings.
Extreme cases aside, there is no shame in being wrong. To err is human.
So if you avoid accountability by deflecting blame, conjuring up creative excuses, or omitting facts, it’s time to shape up.
We see this behavior in the world of politics all the time.
When the economy is in bad shape due to a government’s incompetence or corruption (or in most cases, both), the public will always seek out scapegoats.
Aware of this, these cunning politicians will actively divert attention and shift focus away from them–often directing it onto to marginalized groups to take the fall.
Sadly, it’s a tactic that has been, historically, incredibly effective.
5) Boundary testing
Respect for boundaries means consideration.
So if you know someone who frequently tests your boundaries, say by intruding on personal time and space, this is quite telling.
A former boss used to text and call for work all the time, regardless if it was the weekend, late at night, or a holiday.
At first, he claimed it was urgent, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and responded in kind.
In my mind, it was a one-off occurrence and therefore negligible.
But it became a pattern: he’d encroach on my time off, making me drop whatever I was doing to satisfy his work needs.
Like a predator sensing weakness, he sensed my vulnerability and thus, kept taking advantage, without even the courtesy of overtime pay.
Needless to say, my time at his company was short-lived.
6) Discreet gossiping
Gossip may sound mundane and harmless but, at its core, it really isn’t.
When a person is a gossiper, they will often willingly spread misinformation about people.
They get a fleeting thrill over someone else’s misfortune, indifferent to how it might affect that person or their reputation.
Not very nice.
Sure, occasionally discussing other people is fine, but when it becomes the dominant theme of your interactions? Not good.
7) Polite self-centeredness
When it comes to detecting genuine kindness, the “actions speak louder than words” rule very much applies.
Anyone can blurt out flowery words, but if there’s no evidence to back it up, those words mean nothing.
A corrupt president might have a beautifully written, eloquent speech, but this doesn’t mean they’re an altruistic, humble person.
We live in a society of niceties.
But merely “talking nice” isn’t enough.
I mean, if we based things solely on words, my server at Denny’s last week should be up for sainthood.
Think of it this way: if your car breaks down in the middle of the road, a polite person might walk by, and say “That sucks. I’m sorry about that.”
But the truly nice person will go out of their way to actually help you, whether that means examining your engine or calling for assistance.
See the difference?
8) A lack of reliability
You may think that being late or flaking last minute is pretty innocuous.
If you know a flaky person, you may even be willing to give a pass, thinking something along the lines of: “Oh, that’s just who they are!”
But for me, a lack of reliability is unacceptable–and by tolerating it, we’re only enabling bad behaviors.
When someone is regularly late, for instance, this is a red flag.
They can have all the excuses in the world but when their lateness becomes a pattern, this ultimately comes down to a deep-seated lack of consideration and respect for other people.
If you can be punctual, then so can they. It’s that simple.
If you have an unkind person in your life, not all is lost.
Maybe they’re too caught up in their ways to realize there’s something wrong.
So if you think they’re worth it, consider giving them a chance.
Gently communicate your issues, and elaborate on how they need to change.
Provide potential solutions, if possible.
But if you’ve tried this and yet fundamental change remains elusive, then perhaps it’s time to move on.
Life is short–you don’t want to waste time on undeserving people.