7 subtle ways you’re giving people the wrong impression about you

“When I first saw you, I thought you were this cool, cold woman who didn’t care about anything,” one of my friends confessed recently.

We met at my previous office job, in the break room. I was tired, grumpy, dressed in all black, and stressed over one of my assignments.

After we became friends, she realized that I was deeply uncool, warm, and cared about absolutely everything.

Sometimes the only thing we can do to alter people’s perception of us is wait for them to get to know us.  

But if you’re concerned with coming across as more authentic, there are things you can work on.

Here are 7 subtle ways you’re giving people the wrong impression about you.

Turns out, it’s not always about what you say.

1) Your body language puts people off

Your body language, facial expressions, and gestures play a crucial role in how others see you.

When they contradict your words, it creates confusion about your true intentions.

Not only that, but your entire demeanor speaks louder than your words.

I’m an introvert, so I often cross my arms in public in a defensive stance or play with my hair because I’m uncomfortable.

I’m actively working on embracing a more relaxed and open posture, yet old habits die hard.

Other body language mistakes you might be making include:

  • Having a weak handshake
  • Invading people’s personal space
  • Staring at your watch or phone when someone is speaking
  • Fidgeting
  • Avoiding eye contact

Do any of these things often enough, and others might think of you as impatient, a bad listener, or insecure – even if that’s not true.

The good news?

You can improve your posture and learn to control body language, which will help you appear more confident.

You can take courses on body language online, but the simplest way to change is to become more mindful of what you’re doing around others.  

When you catch yourself slouching, stand up straight and keep your chin up.

Practice your handshake and make eye contact with the person speaking in any social situation.

The more you correct yourself, the better your body language will become.

2) You default to flirting

Remember what I said about playing with my hair when I’m uncomfortable?

Well, a woman playing with her hair is also a pretty obvious sign that she’s flirting. 

Only I don’t do it consciously, so I’m not.

I’m sure this applies to men too, but I can say for certain that many women have this issue – people think they’re flirting when they’re just trying to be nice.

There’s not much you can do about this, especially if you’re a naturally friendly person.

However, if you have the habit of touching people a lot, even during casual conversations or in a professional setting, maybe scale it back a bit.

Or, people may perceive you as coquettish rather than cordial. 

As an added bonus, not everyone likes to be touched, so you don’t run the risk of unintentionally upsetting them.

3) Your clothes are inappropriate

A popular saying goes, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

While there’s nothing wrong with being aspirational… sometimes you have to dress for the job you have.

Case in point: if you work in an office or any buttoned-up environment, showing up to work rumpled is a big no-no.

The same goes for networking events or any gathering with a dress code.

I work from home so most days I wear shorts and a T-shirt. If I have a Zoom meeting, though, I put on a shirt and run a comb through my hair.

As superficial as it may be, people judge you based on what you wear.

Looking disheveled sends the wrong message. 

It makes people think that you’re careless and messy, even if you’re not.  

4) You don’t pay attention to punctuation in written communication

My ex kept using periods when texting me. I always thought he was mad.

I don’t know why many of us interpret using a period in a text as a sign of passive aggression.

But as language continually transforms, keeping up means adapting to these occasionally weird norms.

Learning new social conventions prevents miscommunication, especially when emailing or texting someone you don’t know well.

You don’t want a misplaced period or over-enthusiastic exclamation point to make you appear as a creep, right?

Here are a few rules to abide by:

  • Don’t use periods in informal texts or instant messages
  • Limit the use of exclamation points in emails
  • All caps = screaming
  • Refrain from using emojis or slang in formal messages
  • Sarcasm doesn’t translate well online, so make sure the other person knows you’re being sarcastic

Bonus tip: wait until you get to know someone before sharing memes or anything else you deem hilarious, especially if your sense of humor is best described as weird.

5) You’re trying too hard

Trying too hard to impress someone comes off as desperate, which puts people off.

They’ll be quick to label you as insecure or fake.

Unfortunately, worrying about fitting in can also push you to the other extreme: acting dismissive, trying to dominate the conversation, or rejecting people before they can reject you.

The key to staying true to yourself is finding some sort of middle ground.

Show interest in other people by asking them pertinent questions, being kind, and actively listening to what they say.

But don’t agree with all of their opinions if they don’t match yours. Stick to your convictions and let your personality shine through.

Not everyone may like you, and that’s ok. 

You probably don’t like most people, either.

6) You dwell on mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. When it happens in a social setting, it’s easy to panic.

A joke that doesn’t land, a comment that doesn’t come out exactly how you wanted it, an inadvertent offense.

Any of these can give people the wrong impression about you, more so when you don’t take the time to fix the situation.

Your first impulse after saying something dumb is probably to disappear into the ether and never be heard from again.

Instead, take a deep breath and acknowledge the gaffe.

Then, use self-deprecating humor to poke a little fun at yourself for messing up.

If you offended someone, apologize.  

You can bounce back from social mistakes, but only if you stay calm, don’t beat yourself up too much, and move on to another topic as soon as possible.

7) You overshare

Finally, people may have the wrong impression of you if you habitually overshare.

Maybe you reveal personal details in the wrong context, talk about yourself too much, or ask probing questions that make others uncomfortable.

Whatever the case, some things should stay private. 

You can stop oversharing if you keep a few things in mind:

  • Remember that the conversation is two-sided, so don’t talk exclusively about yourself
  • When someone asks you a question, take a short pause before responding to formulate an appropriate answer
  • If the conversation revolves around something you don’t want to share much about, try to shift it to another topic
  • While going through something challenging, like a personal crisis, be mindful of whom you open up to (ideally, reserve deep talks for friends and family)

Being authentic involves being honest and vulnerable, but there are certain social limits you don’t want to breach.

Do it, and you risk scaring people off.  

Final thoughts

While it’s natural to care about what people think of you, don’t overdo it.

I’m a people pleaser, and it took me years to finally make peace with the fact that not everyone will appreciate the things I stand for – even if I finally manage to stop crossing my arms in public.

If you’re concerned with how others perceive you, consider the above tips as you navigate new social situations.

Otherwise, you do you. The right people will see beyond the surface.

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