11 little-known body language signs that signal low emotional intelligence

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Body language is a powerful form of communication.

Noticing subtle cues can tell you if someone is bored, hostile, engaged, or eager to hear more.

Not only that, but it can even provide insight into the person’s capacity to regulate their emotions and empathize with others.

Here are 11 little-known body language signs that signal low emotional intelligence.

Knowing your audience helps you avoid unnecessary drama.

1) Invasion of personal space

Ever had to chat with someone who is too in your face?

You’re not even in a crowded room, but they can’t seem to understand the concept of personal space – and they invade yours nonchalantly.

That person may have had low emotional intelligence.

Invading someone’s personal space without consideration for their boundaries reflects a lack of empathy.

If someone does this without meaning to be aggressive, they may struggle to pick up on social cues and fail to understand that encroaching on someone’s space feels uncomfortable.

The worst part is that, once you feel threatened by another person’s proximity, you become defensive.

Any resemblance of productive dialogue goes out the window.

A bummer for sure.

2) Fidgeting

Fidgeting indicates a lack of self-regulation, which is a key component of emotional intelligence.

People with high emotional intelligence know how to effectively manage their emotions, so they’re less likely to show that they are bored or impatient, especially in a formal context.

Someone less versed in emotional regulation, on the other hand, struggles to manage their impulses, leading to restlessness and a need for constant movement.

Fidgeting can also indicate a lack of awareness of social cues.

If someone has low emotional intelligence, they can fail to recognize when their fidgeting is inappropriate or disrupts others.

Moreover, they might not understand how their restlessness makes them appear disengaged to the speaker, who will probably be offended by their apparent distraction.

You live and you learn.

3) Failure to mirror

Mirroring is the subconscious imitation of the gestures, speech patterns, and attitudes of others during social interactions.

When you (subconsciously) mirror someone, you build rapport and express empathy.

If someone has low emotional intelligence, however, they may fail to mirror the people they interact with, causing a disconnect:

  • You speak in a calm and measured voice, they speak rapidly and loudly
  • You smile warmly, they look at you with a straight face
  • You use informal language, they speak in big or academic words
  • You lean forward to express interest in the conversation, they slouch in their chair

Individuals with low emotional intelligence struggle to adapt their behavior to match the social context or the needs of others.

In other words, mirroring isn’t high on their to-do list.

4) Insensitive gestures

One of my friends has the worst poker face in the world.

If she’s annoyed by something you say, you know about it immediately.

She rolls her eyes, looks at her phone repeatedly, raises her eyebrows in disapproval. 

Her face is an open book.

I’m used to her expressions, but they sometimes rub others the wrong way, especially if they don’t know her very well.

And the funniest thing is that she doesn’t have low emotional intelligence at all.

She’s just selective about who she chooses to entertain and uninterested in making others feel comfortable.

Individuals with low emotional intelligence, meanwhile, may fail to consider how their gestures or words emotionally impact others.

They have difficulty putting themselves in others’ shoes, so they don’t see how their eye rolls could be hurtful.

Plus, they often complete their gestures with inappropriate language or humor, making the situation even more awkward.

Yikes!

5) Lack of eye contact

Eye contact is a fundamental aspect of nonverbal communication, so a lack of it can signal that the person you’re dealing with doesn’t score high on the emotional intelligence scale.

Closely tied to empathy, eye contact conveys your ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

It tells the other person that you are invested in the conversation and that they are understood.

Basically, it’s a form of social feedback, providing cues about the other person’s feelings and level of engagement in the interaction.

If someone has low emotional intelligence, they struggle to interpret these cues accurately.

As a result, they experience difficulties in maintaining the appropriate level of eye contact required for a successful exchange.

They might look away in the middle of the conversation or stare over your shoulder as you speak.

Granted, eye contact is quite intimate. It might feel overwhelming for someone with low self-esteem, for example.

Generally speaking, however, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t look you in the eye, their emotions are anything but regulated.

6) Closed-off posture

It’s no secret that a closed-off posture can hinder social interaction.

If someone looks like they don’t feel like talking, other people are less likely to approach them and make small talk.

It’s why I cross my arms when I’m on the train and wear huge headphones.

As an introvert, I like to stay in my small bubble of solitude.

When you’re in a more social environment, though, like a party or function, having a closed-off posture can signal low emotional intelligence.

Mix crossed arms with hunched shoulders and a clenched jaw and it’s obvious you’re dealing with someone who either doesn’t want to be there or is less receptive to others’ emotions.

You’ll have to do a little investigating to figure out which option applies.

7) Aggressive posture

Another little-known body language sign that signals low emotional intelligence is the aggressive stance:

  • Stiff posture, with the body upright and tense
  • Narrowed eyes
  • Furrowed brows
  • Puffed chest
  • Clenched fists

If you haven’t done anything to provoke the person who appears confrontational, they might simply have difficulty regulating their emotions.

Even if you did, someone with high emotional intelligence would be able to maintain a calm exterior as they look for a way to navigate the conflict in a constructive manner.

Resorting to aggressive behavior to assert dominance hinders effective communication and lowers the chances of reaching a mutually beneficial solution.

If you encounter someone with an aggressive posture in the wild, I highly suggest you don’t engage.

8) Exaggerated gestures

Exaggerated gestures frequently indicate a lack of sensitivity to social norms.

Individuals with low emotional intelligence may not recognize that their gestures are inappropriate for the situation, leading to off-putting interactions.

When this happens, their body language becomes over-the-top, causing others to feel out of place.

You might catch them waving their arms wildly or flailing about excessively while they speak.

Depending on the situation, they might point fingers, slam their fists on the table, contort their face in extreme ways, or use overly forceful hand gestures.

You get the idea.

Being passionate doesn’t mean you have to be disruptive to everyone else.

9) Inconsistent facial expressions

Inconsistent facial expressions are another non-verbal cue that may indicate a lack of emotional regulation.

When someone struggles to manage their emotions, it leads to fluctuations in facial expressions that don’t accurately reflect their internal state.

They might smile while discussing a somber topic or frown during a lighthearted conversation for no apparent reason.

Or, they might quickly transition from laughter to tears. People with low emotional intelligence can’t always control their mood shifts.

They might also wear expressions that appear forced, like an exaggerated smile or a weird grimace.

Whatever it may be, you’ll notice that their body language doesn’t match the context.

10) Frequent interruptions

Frequent interruptions aren’t solely rude; they demonstrate a lack of empathy and respect for other people’s contributions.

When someone constantly cuts others off, they’re prioritizing their own needs and desires, which signals low emotional intelligence.

Besides, interruptions suggest a lack of impulse control, which can suggest that the person isn’t great at regulating their emotions.

Effective communication requires not only expressing your thoughts but also actively listening to and considering the viewpoints of others.

This isn’t something people with low emotional intelligence excel at.

11) Zero nonverbal feedback

The absence of nonverbal feedback in an interaction can be unnerving.

When the person you’re trying to talk to gives you absolutely nothing to work with, you’re left questioning your own social skills.

Imagine someone giving you a blank stare as you talk. No sympathetic “Mm-hmm.” No smile. No gestures.

You can feel the coldness settling into your bones.

Maybe that person is rude, sure.  

Or maybe they have low emotional intelligence.

Either way, there’s little chance you’ll be able to connect with them deeply.  

Final thoughts

Interacting with someone who has low emotional intelligence can be frustrating.

You might be subjected to insensitive remarks, find it hard to convey your message, or have your opinions dismissed off the bat.

Arm yourself with patience and be as clear as possible.

Once you recognize the subtle body language signs above, you understand that you shouldn’t take the person’s attitude personally.

There’s a chance they don’t mean to offend you.

This is just who they are.

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