It's likely you've experienced that awkward moment when you walk into a room and feel like someone was just talking behind your back. Maybe they were saying something great. Maybe they were gossiping and being mean. But either way, they probably tried to cover it up and act like it didn't happen — and that's what tipped you off.
While it's important not to jump to conclusions or assume the worst of people, their reaction can tell you a lot about the situation. Awkward body language, a strange silence in the room, and even just that gut feeling that something's off can all add up to confirm your suspicions.
If things like this keep happening and you'd like to know what's up, don't be afraid to clear the air. "Confrontation may be uncomfortable, but it doesn't have to be aggressive," Eliza G. Boquin, MA, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "Start by giving them the benefit of the doubt and take the stance of curiosity."
Ask them about it, point to specific evidence and ask for their side of the story, and then "pay attention to how they respond," Boquin says. "If they admit it, tell them how hurt you are and how this news will impact your ability to trust them. Maybe their intentions weren't malicious, but don't be afraid to set stricter boundaries with them moving forward." (At least until they can prove to be a good friend again.) Read on for a few body language cues that may mean someone was just talking behind your back.
1. Their Personality Seems Different
If someone was just talking about you, you'll likely notice small changes in their usual personality. Are they holding themselves differently? Does their laugh seem off? Do they greet you in a different way?
"The biggest [sign] is that they act differently with you than they normally do," body language expert Patti Wood, MA, tells Bustle. "We have a 'baseline' of normal interactions with the people we know and when people are nervous and fear being 'discovered' as having done something bad — like talking about you behind your back — their behavior changes from the normal baseline." And the better you know them, the easier it'll be to pick up on these subtle shifts.
2. The Room Gets Quiet
If everyone seems awkward and quiet when you enter the room, there's likely a good reason for it. For example, "when you come into a room/space and the people there are speaking softly and suddenly become quiet ... it's a good bet you were the topic of conversation just before you arrived, and [it's possible] the talk wasn't good," psychotherapist Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, tells Bustle.
While you might not want to do so immediately, it may be a good idea to talk to the person about it — especially if you have to see them everyday, or they're important to you. Moments like these can be uncomfortable, but they can be dealt with in a mature way.
3. They Seem Super Uncomfortable
Want to test your hunch, and see if someone is actually being awkward? "Try engaging the person ... in conversation and pay attention to how they respond," Coleman says. "Do they continue to look uncomfortable, is their behavior towards you uncharacteristic in some way, and/or do they try to end/change the conversation quickly, looking to the others as they do so?"
If you notice any of these behaviors, "they [may be communicating nonverbally that they are withholding something, are uncomfortable with you, and want to avoid interacting with you," Coleman says. And that can tell you a lot.
4. They Freeze
Even though no one's actually in danger, Wood says it's possible the gossiper might react with a fear response upon seeing you enter the room. "They may show their fear in one or more of [their] limbic systems," Wood says, which kick in in "response to danger." It's the whole fight-or-flight reaction, so you might see their eyes widen, they might freeze, or they may even try to quickly leave.
5. They Seem Stiff
The person may also get a bit stiff, all thanks to the awkwardness they caused in the room. They "may stiffly smile and say hello," Wood says. "They may cut off the normal greeting or extend the length of it." Whatever it is, they' might suddenly seem incredibly inauthentic.
Keep in mind, though, that people have more than one reason to seem awkward. If someone has social anxiety, for example, they might come off this way, so it's important not to jump to conclusions or assume the worst.
6. They Overcompensate
When someone's caught doing something wrong, or they aren't sure what to do next, they might try to overcompensate. As Wood says, "They may extend a handshake, a hug, or extend the time they say your name, all in an effort to ... cover over the bad things they said."
7. They Gossip About Others
If you suspect someone may have been talking behind your back, consider their history. "Do they gossip about [others]? Do they share secrets about other people with you? Don't assume that you're exempt to their gossiping," Boquin says. "People repeat patterns. If they're known to bad-mouth others, chances are they [might be] bad-mouthing you, too."
8. They Can't Maintain Eye Contact
Pay attention to the person's eye contact. Are they looking away? Looking shiftily towards others? Or staring at you longer than they normally would?
If they were just gossiping, they may "fear being discovered and shut off or reduce the length of eye contact," Wood says. They might also do the overcompensation thing, and stare you down longer than they normally would. Or, you might notice they look more to others — in a nervous way — to try and assess the situation.
Basically, if their eye contact seems different for them, it may be a sign something's up.
9. Their Feet Point Towards The Door
If their toes are pointing towards an exit, "they may [be symbolically running] from the room by pointing their feet away from you and towards the door," Wood says. This is something people subconsciously do when they want to leave a room, which is exactly what they might be trying to do if you just caught them gossiping.
10. They "Protect" Themselves
Another clue to look for is closed-off body language, which is something people naturally do when they feel nervous, defensive, or awkward. "They may shut down by crossing their arms, legs, or ankles or shutting their mouth," Wood says. "They may also show their anxiety [by] covering the mouth, adjusting clothing or jewelry, or adjusting their stance or seated position repeatedly."
11. Trust Your Gut
Not everyone's an expert when it comes to reading body language, or even correctly assessing a social situation. So the most important thing to do is trust your gut.
"The reality is they may never admit to talking behind your back, but you can begin to trust your instincts more about the person when you start paying attention," Boquin says. "How does your body feel when you're around this person? Have you begun to tense up or feel anxious around them? What is their body language telling you?" If something feels strange — and especially if it feels strange frequently — it's OK to follow up.
Whether it's a friend, coworker, or family member, don't be afraid to ask them about it in a kind and understanding way. By talking about how they made you feel, you can help clear the air, and hopefully salvage the relationship.