7 subtle behaviors that are quietly undermining your likability

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

I’ve got a friend who, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’m still friends with.

Sure, I still have memories from years ago when we actually got along and things were fine. However, as the years have gone on, he’s really changed and has developed some behaviors that truly rankle me and most other people, too.

I bring up his example because I also think about these things a lot, and every time I find myself acting in a similar way, I take a step back and warn myself.

“You don’t want to act like Brian*!”

It’s not like he does really huge, obvious things to piss people off. It’s more the little things that constantly get under your skin.

Taking my long-term friend as an example and a warning to you, too, here are seven subtle behaviors that are quietly undermining your likability if you’re engaging in them.

*Names changed to protect the innocent… and the guilty!

1) Complaining

My old buddy Brian is a real complainer.

It’s the first thing that people notice about him when they meet him.

“Wow, your friend moans a lot, doesn’t he?” they always say, and all I can do is nod in agreement.

I don’t have any way to explain it or defend him, so it makes me feel like a bad friend, but it really bothers me, too. 

You can try to change the subject and get him talking about something else, but he’ll immediately find something to grumble about related to that topic as well.

If you ask me, I think the root cause of all his complaining is that he’s probably not so happy with his own life but feels powerless to change.

This is why people generally complain, which kind of makes no sense. If they had the power to do something, they could change things, but since they don’t they complain instead of just accepting things as they are.

Trust me, if you’re like this, even subtly, you’re not doing yourself any favors in the social department.

2) Being negative

Though complaining is definitely one part of it, being negative is a whole lot more far-reaching.

Negativity can slowly but steadily seep into every aspect of your life, like a leak in your basement. It might be mild and subtle at first, so people hardly notice it, but over time, the moisture and stench of it become impossible to ignore.

The kind of negativity I’m talking about might start with a bit of complaining and criticizing people and situations around you. 

Then, it can move on to slating systems like the government, education system, etc. It can include bitterness about the past and resentment of other people and their success.

Like that slow, seeping flood, eventually, you’ll have nothing left in your thoughts and words that’s positive.

My friend Brian is already knee-deep in his floodwaters, but if you’re just noticing a trickle in yourself, there’s still time to patch it up and block the negativity before it completely takes over your life.

3) Not listening

Earlier, I said that when Brian is complaining, you can change the subject and try to get him to talk about something else, though he’ll normally find something to complain about there, too.

But really, it’s almost impossible to change the subject when he gets talking.

I think the reason is that he has really undermined his own likeability so much that few people ever want to spend time with him. So when he does snag an audience, he has a lot to talk about and doesn’t want to give up the floor.

A conversation has to involve give and take, but if you’re doing all the talking, you’re only taking the other person’s attention but not giving them any.

Guess how that makes them feel?

a) Unimportant  B) Unheard  C) Bored  D) Annoyed

If you said E) All of the above, you’re right!

This all makes Brian pretty hard to talk to if you want to get a word in edgewise, which most people do!

4) Being a cheapskate

I love going out for a meal with friends and splitting the check only to end up short. Don’t you?

No, seriously, this is infuriating, and I think it makes everyone feel bad.

If you’re not sure who’s cheaping out, then you’re left suspecting everyone and feeling a sour taste in your mouth.

But what if it’s the same person again and again?

As you might have guessed, ol’ Brian is the guy who’s always being stingy in this situation. We all know and will try to graciously point out to him that, yes, he also should pay his share of the tax and tip, for example.

He normally does, but it sure is frustrating to have to keep knocking on that same door.

And his cheapness doesn’t stop there.

When I visit friends at their houses, I almost always bring something along, like a dessert or a bottle of wine. They do the same for me. 

It’s just the way you do things with friends, right?

But with Brian? Never.

It’s not like he doesn’t have money – he’s doing about as well as everyone else. He just seems to lack the instincts for generosity and reciprocity.

It makes him look like a cheapskate all the time and really reduces his likeability.

5) Acting like a know-it-all

Here’s one subtle behavior that quietly but steadily makes you less likable.

I really like listening to people who know what they’re talking about. When they’re sharing their real, expert knowledge, there’s usually a passion in their communication that’s exciting and entrancing.

Then there are people who just act like they know everything about everything.

You know the sort I’m talking about. 

These are people who always say, “Oh, yeah,” and nod with a smug look like they know what the other person’s talking about. Or they go on and on about something they’ve only just learned on YouTube yesterday but act like they’ve known it their whole lives.

If this knowledge were real, these might be signs of being sure and confident. But when it’s bogus or only half real, these behaviors betray a lack of self-confidence.

The person pretending to know more is worried about looking dumb for not knowing so they fake it. But this isn’t one area where you can fake it ‘til you make it!

Does Brian do this?

All the time, especially when he’s around strangers. Sometimes I eavesdrop and hear him making out like he’s an HVAC engineer or a dog breeder and the like when he’s never done any of these things!

6) Flaking out

Now, here’s something that Brian doesn’t actually do, at least not to the best of my knowledge.

But it’s still a subtle behavior that can quietly undermine your likeability.

Flaky people don’t necessarily have dandruff, but what they do have is an ability to commit to things and then follow through.

We all have to cancel or change plans sometimes. Life gets in the way.

As the immortal Robbie Burns said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

But what about those people who flake out all the time?

Poor Brian gets a pass here, but I know other people who constantly make plans and then cancel. 

One of my best buddies typically makes plans to do three or four different people on an average weekend, then normally does only one of them (or a last-minute fifth option!).

This is initially frustrating and then infuriating. Eventually, though, you learn to accept that this is how the person is and not take it personally.

However, this makes you much less inclined to make plans with them and definitely makes them less likable.

7) Being glued to your phone

Luckily, I’ve never known Brian to be a phone addict, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know others who are.

I may even be one of them, or at least I know I’m on my phone way too much.

I tell myself I need to be in touch for family and work issues at all times, but I also find myself chatting or looking up interesting things in the middle of social situations.

And I know this doesn’t make me any more likable. 

I try not to whip out my phone and start looking at it in the middle of listening to someone else’s story. That’s just such a terrible thing to do because it sends one message to the other person: “You’re not as important as whatever is going on in my phone.”

This is a hard habit to crack but trust me, it’s one you should try to work on if you have it. I’m working on it, too!

Last words

These seven subtle behaviors that are quietly undermining your likability have to stop.

You don’t want to end up with Brian, who I think is quite unhappy and socially quite a lot of hard work!

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

Marcel Deer

Marcel is a journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur. When not obsessing over his man cave or the latest tech, he’s failing helplessly at training his obnoxious rescue dog ‘Boogies’.

9 signs you’re dealing with someone who lacks empathy

If someone displays these 11 behaviors, they’re secretly intimidated by you