A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

12 Ways You’re Giving off a Bad Vibe Without Realizing It

The body postures, facial expressions, and other behaviors below can broadcast negativity to people around you, hurting your reputation and relationships. See how many of them you do, and learn how to fix them.

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Shy young pretty tattooed girl smiling looking down over white background.
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Looking all over the place

When you’re in a conversation, there’s one sure way to send the message that you don’t care: “Constantly scanning your surroundings instead of making eye contact,” says David F. Khalili, LMFT, a psychotherapist in Oakland, California. “You don’t have to stare—please don’t stare!—but when you’re having a conversation with someone and you’re looking all over the place the other person may feel unimportant or not considered by you.” (This type of glance shifting can be a symptom of social anxiety or being on the autism spectrum and in those cases, it’s perfectly appropriate behavior, he notes.) “What I’m referring to are those who give off the vibe that they are looking for the next best thing to engage in. It sends the message that the person you’re talking to is not worth your time or not good enough for you and can be easily replaced.” Follow these body language tips to get exactly what you want out of life.

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Adult man hand finger tapping on table

Tapping, jiggling, wiggling

A foot constantly tapping. A knee constantly bouncing. Fingers drumming and drumming. “These kinds of things put the people around you on edge,” says Cyndi Darnell, a psychotherapist based in New York City. Some people fidget when they’re nervous or upset, others simply do it out of habit—either way, fussing and jiggling can send the message that something isn’t quite right with you, she says.

Fidgeting can be especially negative in a business situation such as a job interview, Tonya Reiman, author of The Power of Body Language, told Business Insider. It can be a major distraction to your interviewer or colleagues and make you seem nervous and less-than-empowered. Job interviewers dislike it so much, in fact, that 26 percent said fidgeting has been a major factor in an applicant not getting the job they were going for, according to a survey by Adecco Staffing. Watch out for these 15 other body language mistakes to avoid during your next job interview.

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Hugging yourself tight

We’ve all read that crossing your arms is a sign of being closed off or angrily defensive. But that’s not necessarily the case “if the person’s arms are lightly folded across her chest rather than tightly,” Joe Navarro, a former federal investigator and author of What Every Body Is Saying, told Woman’s Day. “Most people cross them for self-comfort—they’re giving themselves a hug, in effect.” Darnell agrees: “Some people cross their arms if they dislike parts of their body like their belly or large breasts and they are doing it out of shame, in an effort to hide them.” So if you find yourself crossing your arms regularly, you may be broadcasting your insecurities and giving off a vibe of insecurity or fear. If you’re in a situation where you don’t know what to do with your hands, try lacing your fingers and putting them in your lap.

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Staring at your phone

We’re all a little bit hooked on our phones. “Our phones keep us connected to everything around us, but sometimes disconnected from those closest to us,” says Shamyra Howard, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Many of us have a habit of checking our phones and scrolling every few minutes. Research shows that Americans check their phones between 80 and 150 times a day. But when we check our phones while engaging with others, it unintentionally sends a message that we aren’t fully present.”

Bonus tip for couples: “I often advise couples who are struggling in their relationship to leave their phones out of their bedroom,” says Darnell. “If your partner is in the bed next to you and you’re checking email or looking at Instagram, it’s inadvertently saying, ‘This relationship is not as important as the other stuff in my life.'”

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Slouching around

Sinking into a chair—especially if you’re wearing something comfy—feels amazing. But if you’re at work or in a new social situation, pay attention to that posture. “In order to be perceived as confident, you must sit or stand tall, with your neck elongated, ears and shoulders aligned, and chest slightly protruding,” Reiman says. This position actually makes you feel more confident and gives off vibes of strength and vitality, rather than tiredness or insecurity.

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Pointing yourself away from someone you actually like

Your feet can send someone—a potential date or boss, perhaps?—nonverbal cues about how you’re feeling, says Navarro. So be sure they’re pointed in the right direction! “They’re the most honest part of the body and really let you know how someone feels about you,” says Navarro. If your feet are pointed toward someone, it’s a signal you want to be there talking to them. If your feet are pointed away from them, they may get the impression you’d like to run in the other direction.

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Huffing and puffing

“Erratic breathing or repeated sighing tells people around you that something is not right. It often happens when someone is angry, upset, or in the midst of an anxiety attack,” explains Darnell. “I used to have a client who sighed and rolled his eyes whenever I made a suggestion. I assumed he didn’t like what I was saying and was rejecting it—but he kept on coming to me, so finally, I gently asked him about it. He didn’t even know he was doing it!” He had gone through his entire adult life huffing and puffing, making others feel as if he didn’t value or like what they were saying, when in fact, he was just listening and thinking it over—in his own way. “He came to me wanting to work on ways to attract a life partner, and I wondered if that habit was causing people in relationships to feel as if he was pushing them away.”

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Scowling in concentration

Some of us naturally look or are grumpier than others, and that’s ok, says Darnell. You don’t have to smile just because it makes other people feel more at ease. “The requirement to ‘smile more’ is a rule that society places on women. Generally, we don’t expect men to smile if they’re not feeling it,” says Darnell. “I’m loathed to say that smiling is essential to giving off positive vibes. That said, if you’re in a shared workspace and you’re constantly walking around with a scowl on your face whatever your gender is, people may not want to be around you.” Don’t grin if you have to fake it—but if people often ask “are you ok?” or you feel as if they’re avoiding you, ask yourself whether your facial expression or mood are accidentally sending out a “stay away” message.

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Fiddling with your clothes

Tugging at your shirt or otherwise messing with your clothes sends the message that you don’t feel comfortable in your skin—or your outfit. “This can indicate insecurity or anxiety,” says Khalili. “While this isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ behavior, it makes people think the person is concerned that others disapprove of his or her look or is feeling insecure that day.” To draw less negative attention to yourself—and your outfit—readjust in private! Watch out for these other nervous habits that can be hurting your health.

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Ignoring emails

All of us get buried by our email inboxes once in a while, but if it happens too often, it could hurt your relationships or reputation in other people’s eyes. “Not responding to emails in a timely manner can send off bad vibes,” says Howard. “It can come off as being dismissive, even if that’s not the case.”

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Looking like a bit of a mess

“When people look good they feel good! Grooming habits often tell how we’re feeling,” says Howard. “For many people, it takes an effort to be well groomed, so if a person who is usually well-groomed shows up unkempt, that might be a sign that they’re not in a good place.”

This goes double at work: We’ve all heard the advice that you should dress for the job you want, not the one you have. That’s because the way we present ourselves visually does send a nonverbal message about who we are and what we want. One quick way to look more put together? Throw on a cute or stylish hat or jacket.

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Businessman working at office desk, he is using a laptop and having a relaxing coffee break

Your office is a total wreck

Everyone’s workspace gets messy sometimes—and, yes, messiness has been linked to creativity. But when your space is seriously disorganized or hoarder-style stuffed, it can make people draw unflattering conclusions about you. “The negative message this sends is that the person is unorganized and people may worry that the messy person will be unorganized in their scheduling as well, meaning they may miss appointments and not be dependable,” says Khalili.

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Sunny Sea Gold
Sunny is a veteran health science and wellness journalist with more than 20 years of experience. Her work has appeared in O: The Oprah Magazine, Health, Eating Well, Parents, Fast Company, WebMD, TeenVogue, Redbook, Glamour, Seventeen and Men's Fitness.
She's held staff editor positions at Glamour, Seventeen and Redbook, been a contributing editor for Parents and earned three prestigious National Magazine Award nominations.
Her book Food: The Good Girl's Drug is about binge-eating disorder in young women.