12 Negative Body Language Signals to Avoid

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If you are taking body language for granted, you may be sending the wrong signals and hampering your own progress in life.

Some of us live in a sort of denial, concentrating on product, but not our own personal presentation, thinking that all will be forgiven if we just produce something undeniably great.

It is bazaar, but what some of us don’t understand is that everyone communicates with their body all the time. Maybe we get lost in thought and forget this critical aspect of communication.

There are small movements and large nonverbal cues telling the world something about ourselves.

Some nonverbal communication is readily seenyou frown or smile because you are happy or sad.

Other nonverbal communication is seen but internalized unconsciously by our audience – smiling with your mouth but the rest of your face is so stiff; you look unsure.

Some happen singularly – you quickly make a hair adjustment once before speaking.

Others happen repeatedly – you keep adjusting your clothes while talking.


12 Negative Body Language Signals

As someone who worked for a time with human resources, I will warn you, that even in the parking lot where there are cameras and in the foyer where you sit waiting with the receptionist for your meeting, your presentation has already begun.

And with networking on and offline, not knowing who knows who, the whole world is now a stage. So here are 12 common negative body language signals that you might not be aware of which could be hampering your success in life.


1. Rubbing or Touching Your Nose Repeatedly

This isn’t just brought on by allergies, but can be triggered because your blood pressure goes up for any number of reasons, increasing blood flow to your skin, dilating the cells, particularly, the mast cells.

It will detract from your image and presentation, and it may cause you to lose people’s confidence in you. Known as cue for lying, people might find it difficult to readily trust you or your message.

So if at all possible, keep your hands away from your face.


2. Touching or Fixing Your Hair

Along with number one, number two is about touching around your face, particularly to self-groom. Fixing your hair or touching your hair even once can send the signal that you are un-confident or unsure.

You were unready just before you began.

There is the confident flip of the hair done in infomercials, but there really aren’t many other settings that this would not look like bad acting. Whatever grooming you need to do, do it in private, preferably away from the people who you will be talking to or with.


3. Biting Your Lip

I thought of saying don’t bite your nails, but that is an obvious one to avoid. However, people will and do bite their lip without knowing it. I’ve watched people at podiums do it, and it sometimes only happens for a second.

Few people chew their lips while in front of others.

I’ve seen people do it in the privacy of their cars at stop lights and can imagine they are stressing about something they have done or are about to do. But biting your lip even once while in front of peers is a cue that you are unsure or un-confident.

Either you or your presentation will lose stock in those around you.


4. Covering Your Mouth

This goes on at conference tables during meetings and in interviews without obvious notice. Sometimes people just appear deep in thought. It can however hurt your image as it is being associated more and more with lying or deceitfulness.

That would be the worst. Something less bad but not good would be that you are projecting not thoughtfulness but again a lack in confidence.

If this is something you do when you are worried, you may be compounding your dilemma if you are in a situation where you want to be seen as sure. Don’t look like you are fretting, caught off your game.


5. Scratching

Scratching a little seems innocuous, but even if you do it once, it sends the message of being unsure.

People scratch their arms or neck for the same reason they touch their noses. When their blood pressure goes up, mast cells can begin to release histamine, and you might get that itchy skin feeling.

As someone who has gotten hives from time to time after getting through stressful situations, I can attest to the cause and effect.

When in front of peers, avoid scratching, because if you are in a situation where confidence and trust matters, you could lose personal stock.


6. Rubbing or Holding Earlobes

This is a gesture I’ve seen in meetings or during an interview which I didn’t pay much attention to but which surprised me as a negative body language gesture.

I’ve seen it as a thoughtful gesture, like someone was deep in thought about something, considering their options.

However, it can also be interpreted as someone worrying and about to be deceitful. At the least, it is considered a self-soothing gesture, one triggered again by an elevation in blood pressure and release of histamine.


7. Pinching Nose

Rubbing your nose can detract, but so can pinching your nose.

I’ve seen this done by someone interviewing me and by a teacher giving a lecture. Again, I didn’t think much of it, but it is considered something that is detracting from your image of confidence.

At the very least, done once, it is a signal that you’ve made a mistake and have lost some of your game. You may have approached the head of the room with poise, but something has gone amiss momentarily. You are slipping.


8. Crossing Your Ankles

Most people have heard or come across the idea that crossing your arms and legs is a closing off, defensive gesture.

In dating and in meetings this is a negative. But crossing even your ankles can be interpreted as negative as well even if you thought you were just making yourself comfortable.

I did this in a chair for a few minutes and just tried to evaluate myself and how I felt, and I can say there is some credence to this being a self-soothing gesture. You are making yourself comfortable.

If you are giving a presentation and standing, or are in a meeting and sitting, it would be easy to do this. Someone noticing it could see it as a cue that you have something to hide or you are uneasy or unsure.

If you are trying to entice some people to invest in you and your idea, you may have taken a step back while on that mission, so it is better just not to cross your arms, legs, or even your ankles.


9. Locking Your Fingers Behind Your Head

I’ve seen men do this one particularly, even on a date as well as a business lunch.

It could be someone leaning back comfortable or confidently I suppose, but instead it can be read into differently. This particularly male gesture is read as someone who is about to pounce.

It also can be read as intimidating and defensive gesture. So regardless of the setting, unless you are at home or out with friends, it shouldn’t be done at all with peers, in meetings, or interviews.

It isn’t confidence that is being projected. It is self-protecting defensiveness.


10. Picking

Whether you pick your fingernails or pick at the corner of your portfolio, this is a gesture of anxiety.

When under stress, your body starts sending signals out to do something, anything. It is the fight or flight response.

Breathe and consciously relax.

Picture something that is pleasing that counters the stress. Refocus yourself. Don’t let your elevated stress erode your personal presentation.


11. Fidgeting

Fidgeting is more than moving nervously in your seat, it is any quick, close to the body movement. We can fidget with our clothes, our hair, and our pens. We can clench and unclench our hands. We can shift our weight from foot to foot.

It is the elevated stress causing a fight or flight response. You have to just relax. Any fidgeting can hurt people’s confidence in you. So leave the bouncing on your heels and constant readjustments of your clothing behind in the green room.

Or better yet, leave them completely behind because you truly have reason to feel confident and poised.


12. Becoming Rigid

I left this for last because it is the opposite of all the others and something people don’t think about doing it themselves, but we see others doing. Sometimes we dismiss it as just feeling tense.

Just tell a child to be still, and you might get this exaggerated hardening of facial muscles as they clench their teeth.

Even their muscles in their arms, legs and toes get excessively rigid.

When we try to stop fidgeting or picking, trying to be still like the child, we might mistakenly go rigid. When we try to smile to cover up our unhappiness or anxiety, our other muscles might go rigid.

This does exactly the opposite to our personal presentation that we want. When we go rigid and stiff we look like an alert but scared rabbit in the field when a hawk’s shadow passes over us.

Staying loose and open by relaxing and feeling truly confident and poised are the only remedies.



We can find it so easy to control the big movements and even some of the smaller movements in specific situations. We learn to give a presentation in front of a classroom. We master the skills for a job interview.

But the longer the time we have to hold our poise, the more necessary it becomes to be truly confident and up to task.

It is like the smaller movements that are harder to control, like the facial muscle movements. And it is like the change in our skin color or body temperature. We don’t want them to see us sweat.

The only way to keep the small, barely there body language cues positive is to cultivate confidence, to marry it to our soul. We have to believe in ourselves and we have to believe that our audience has to see us and what we are presenting as absolutely the best.

“Doubt becomes the biggest enemy, especially when it goes hand in hand with an active imagination.”

Even as you comb through your personal inventory for any imperfections, and we triple check our projects and products for their weakest parts, and even while you are researching your peers and audience for their most contrary objections and critical questions, at some point we have to choose to believe.

It isn’t foolish to walk into a room believing in your own success. It is foolish to walk in still trying to convince yourself.

Dawn Van Ness
Dawn Van Ness
Dawn D. Van Ness is a freelance writer and online media specialist who works with entrepreneurs, owners of small businesses, and the self-employed. She is happiest when she can enable others to take control of their online presence, to succeed living their best life, and to achieve their life goals.


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