13 Habits That Untrustworthy People Have in Common

From a lack of integrity to dominating the conversation, here's what you should know about untrustworthy people.

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They say honesty is the best policy, but what happens when you’re dealing with someone who is untrustworthy? From a lack of integrity to breaking rules, there are a few habits that untrustworthy people have in common. Read on to figure out how to identify these untrustworthy habits alongside what to do when communicating with an untrustworthy person.

They have a lack of integrity

One of the main habits common among untrustworthy people is lack of integrity. “They don’t keep their word. They break promises. They may say they are sorry, but they don’t change their behavior,” Patti Wood, speaker and trainer on detecting deception in work and personal relationships and author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, tells Reader’s Digest. “A person with integrity keeps their name. To betray or exploit someone would cause them pain. For example, you tell them something in confidence and share it with others and then don’t seem to be distressed that it upsets you.” Make sure you know these 12 things you should never lie about.

They don’t trust others

Untrustworthy people don’t trust others. “It makes sense that someone who has no qualms about breaking their word and destroying trust cannot imagine that other people could be honest. What’s interesting is just how broad and deep their lack of confidence is,” explains Wood. “The more monovalent and suspect they are of everyone, the worse their behavior is. They will accuse innocent people of the same behaviors that they exhibit. Like the man who accuses his wife of cheating because he is, or the boss who is afraid his employees will cheat him because he is cheating the company’s owner.”

They have a history of being unreliable

Untrustworthy people, it might be unsurprising to note, may have a history of being unreliable. “They are like slot machines. They know exactly how much they can get away with and just when you are about to walk away, they do something wonderful so you will stay,” Jodi R. R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, tells Reader’s Digest.Those who are untrustworthy fall within a spectrum of behavior ranging from fessing up (‘I am so sorry I am late again.  I know I told you I would be here at 1:00…’) to completely gaslighting you (‘I never said I would be here at 1:00. You must have misheard me’).  The common denominator is that you are willing to believe them despite their history of being unreliable.” 

They break the rules and push past boundaries

Be aware of the public image an untrustworthy person puts out into the world, along with how they act around friends and family. “Though they may seem like fine upstanding citizens to the outer world, they show their true natures when they are with intimate friends and family or those with less power and or who are beholding to them,” says Wood. “In those ‘of camera’ times, they show their true natures. I remember the friend I had for many years that seemed like such a fine person, and yet the first time I visited his condo, he said, oh, let me go out to your car with you and drive you out of the parking garage so I can use my pass and you don’t have to pay. They have cameras, and so they will see me, and you won’t get in trouble. I said I would prefer to pay, but he insisted, and then I realized he got a high as he was doing it and smiled at the camera. It made me uncomfortable.” These are the 11 signs you can trust your partner.

They don’t take your feelings into account

Have you ever tried to explain that something made you uncomfortable but the other person doesn’t seem to care?  Wood explains that “untrustworthy people keep going. Your feelings don’t matter. They don’t stop doing something that makes you uncomfortable.”

They lack empathy

Empathy is an important part of listening and getting to know another person. However, when there’s no empathy, that can be a red flag. “They ignore, seem unaware, or even seem to enjoy your lack of comfort, disease, or pain. For example, an untrustworthy person may break a boundary by interrupting you and not stop when you show that it bothers you.”

They ignore personal space and boundaries

Alongside lacking empathy, people who are untrustworthy may invade personal space. “They may touch you in an overly familiar way when you have just met and may ignore or enjoy it when you freeze or pull away, saying ‘No’ and even perhaps laughing smiling and patting their hand down in air when you disagree or make a request,” says Wood. “To me, this is the worst and most dangerous of the behaviors because if they can’t see someone’s pain and feel no consequences for your actions, you have no incentive to be a good person.”

Inconsistency and lack of predictability in their emotions and actions

Wood adds that people who are untrustworthy tend to be inconsistent in their emotions and actions, alongside a lack of predictability. “And the untrustworthy person is not anchored by their integrity they are not held steady and guided by a moral compass,” Wood says. “They will not only make a promise then break it, they say they will be somewhere at a certain time and then be late.”

They dominate the conversation

There are a few additional red flags to keep in mind, like when someone is dominating the conversation. “This ‘over-talking’ involves auditory space invasion and other paralanguage factors that show they are in control,” says Wood. Here are 12 rude conversation habits you need to stop ASAP.

They are charming

Wood says that along with being charming, they are “good storytellers, so it may be hypnotic to listen to them. You need to watch for a lack of inclusion.” Wood adds that loving partners share their speaking time with their partners, including introverted partners. If you feel like you’re just listening to a monologue or aren’t being included at all, that isn’t normal.

They tend to blame others

“Note how often they blame others for everything. There are true victims of abuse and we need to make sure we are empathic and kind of victims,” says Wood. She adds that “if someone acts unkindly, brusquely, and bullies others, but claims victimhood, they are clearly not a victim.”

One other thing to keep in mind? Wood says to take note of how those close to untrustworthy people act when together. “Are they happy? Do they seem stable, balanced, confident, and healthy in the presence of the person you are assessing?”

They have over the top, ideal behavior

“That means everything from not just giving you a sincere compliment but over the top compliments till you feel uncomfortable and can’t passivity reciprocate,” says Wood. “Over the top gift-giving, bringing an outrageously expensive gift.” Untrustworthy people tend to be the rule-breakers of gift-giving, Wood adds. For example, they may send a romantic love note with flowers to your workplace, when they haven’t met your coworkers. “I have said it before but notice if you feel uncomfortable around them,” Wood says.” If you don’t feel great around them, that’s not a good sign. Beware these tricks con artists use to gain your trust.

They are hard to understand

“The conversational habits of not getting to the point, making guesses instead of sharing knowledge, and speaking disorderly and confusingly are good examples of an untrustworthy way of communicating,” Alex Koch, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, tells Reader’s Digest. “In online interactions, rough mics and video lags decrease ease of understanding, which interferes with building mutual trust. Luckily, improving one’s trustworthiness through a better internet connection is a relatively easy fix.”

What should you do when talking to someone untrustworthy?

Once you identify someone who appears to be untrustworthy, what should you do? Etiquette experts and body language experts thankfully have a few tips to help you take control of the situation or find safety when you need it. If you’ve ever wondered whether crossing your arms is considered rude, here are 8 secrets your body language reveals about you.

Gauge your level of safety

Wood says it’s important to first establish whether or not you feel safe. “If you feel uncomfortable just get away from the person and don’t feel bad or worry about being rude, just leave,” Wood says. “If you are testing to see if they are safe you can ask them a ‘negative’ question to test them. Liars have their spiel down but they have created a positive person so ask them negative questions to see if it makes them unsortable. ‘So, tell me five things that were bad about your last job, or past romantic relationships.’ Everyone will struggle but see how they handle it. A good person won’t make you feel bad for asking.” Make sure you know these signs of a toxic relationship.

Trust your gut

“My grandmother always said, ‘Never trust someone who says ‘trust me,’ they are lying or trying to trick you.’ Trust your gut instead,” says Smith. “Untrustworthy people rely on your listening to their words instead of their behavioral cues. Your brain is smarter than you think.” Smith says that when people lie, their tone of voice changes and they have a ‘tell’ meaning their voice will change or they will turn most of their body away from you. Know these 7 common habits that destroy trust in a relationship.

Have a backup plan

When dealing with an untrustworthy person, Smith recommends being kind and pleasant but always have your own backup plan. “They say they are bringing all of the wine for Thanksgiving? Be sure to buy some anyways for when they arrive emptyhanded,” says Smith. “They told you their part of the project will be completed by Tuesday? Email them a thank you reiterating the details and cc your boss. They promise to pick you up at the airport? When you don’t see them after 10 minutes and have not answered their phone, hop in a taxi/rideshare and text them you look forward to seeing them later.” Next, make sure you know these 50 little etiquette rules you should always practice.


Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a former associate editor and writer at RD.com whose work has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, Golf Channel and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her writing can be found on her website, madelinehwahl.com.