9 Habits You Don’t Realize Make You Seem Harsh
We all have a few habits that can seem harsh or off-putting, depending on the environment we're in and who we're speaking to. These usually include certain types of body language that come off as cold, or push others away — even when that isn't the goal. It seems trivial, but even your gestures, or how you're standing, can affect how people interact with you, as well as the impression you make.
While you can't win over everyone, or expect to come off as pleasant 24/7, it never hurts to keep these habits in mind, especially when you're trying to make a good impression. "Once you have an awareness, this allows you an opportunity to make [a] change," licensed psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee, tells Bustle.
Take, for example, the habit of standing too close to someone when you're chatting. Since this can come off as harsh or overbearing, you might want to make a few adjustments. As Dr. Forshee says, "It will be important for you to be mindful of giving yourself two arm’s length distance from people." That way, everyone has their own personal space.
A slight modification like this one is often all it takes to have better interactions with others. Here are a few more habits that can seem cold or off-putting, according to experts, as well as how you can adjust them to create more positive vibes.
1. Having Closed Off Body Language
It's natural to stand with your arms crossed. But if you're engaging with others — especially when you want to make a good impression — keep in mind the type of message it can send.
"Do you have body language that is inviting to a person or that signals disinterest? For example, crossing any part of your body is symbolic of not being open to others," Marianna Strongin, PsyD., founder of Strong In Therapy, tells Bustle.
If you'd like to seem welcoming, let your arms naturally hang at your sides, face the person you're talking to, and uncross your legs. This will send the signal that you're listening, and ready to have a conversation.
2. Ignoring Someone As You Walk By
You certainly don't have to walk down the street smiling at everyone you see. But in some situations, it's not a great idea to breeze by others, without saying hi.
This is especially true when you're around people you work with, roommates, or other people you may want to form a bond with. When you don't say hello, "your silence can seem cold and off-putting to people," psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, LMFT, PhD, tells Bustle.
So why not acknowledge them in some way? "Just that one word can make it very easy to begin a conversation," Dr. Tessina says. A quick head nod works, too. Or a smile if you feel like it.
Obviously it's fine if you're busy, and seem distracted as a result. But if you have the time, it never hurts to greet others as you pass by.
3. Saying Whatever's On Your Mind
There's a big difference between saying what's on your mind and sharing a few opinions, and saying whatever you want without a filter.
"This means that you are probably saying things that others may find mean or hurtful," Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle.
It's not necessary, for example, to be brutally honest, 24/7, especially in work environments. Pulling back just a little will make for healthier relationships and interactions with others. And it'll help create more positive vibes.
"Start with learning to be more aware of your actions and what you’re saying verbally," McBain says. "Also work on being empathic and truly trying to understand how others are feeling by putting yourself in their shoes."
4. Staring Someone Down
Figuring out how much eye contact to make can be tricky. If you make too much eye contact, it can be unnerving. And if you keep looking away, that can be off-putting, too.
"We communicate our emotions through our face and our eyes either invite conversation or they can end it," Dr. Strongin says. "Once people begin to scatter their attention to other things it sends the signal of not wanting to engage any longer."
And since that can make you seem disinterested, it may be time to readjust. Generally, looking at someone for about three seconds feels most comfortable. Follow up by casually looking away, then back again throughout the conversation.
It's fairly common for people to interrupt each other during a conversation. And this can seem "harsh," as it sends the message that the other person doesn't matter.
To break the habit, "wait for a little space in the conversation to insert your comment," Dr. Tessina says. It's fine if you occasionally step on the end of someone else's sentence. But the more you practice giving that space, the less frequently it'll happen.
6. Standing Too Far Away
"The distance between two people is also important to consider," Dr. Strongin says. "You want to respect one's personal space, but also not be too far to [...] signal discomfort."
If you're standing on the other side of the room or backing away, for example, it can make you seem distant. (Literally and figuratively.)
So, if you'd like to bridge the gap — say, at a networking event, or while at work — judge the other person's reaction, and adjust yourself accordingly. Standing a comfortable distance apart during a conversation really can make for better interactions.
7. Standing Too Close
As mentioned above, it can make you seem pretty intense if you stand too close to someone while having a conversation.
"In the United States, there is a general understanding for the closeness in which we stand to someone when we’re talking or conversing with them," Dr. Forshee says. "When we invade someone’s personal space by standing too close to them (any closer than two arm’s length distance) this is likely to be perceived by the other person subconsciously as a threat, and will put them on the defense."
And in everyday life, when you're just trying to get along with others and create a few connections, that's definitely not what you want.
8. Using A Judgmental Tone Of Voice
There are three forms of communication that we all use every day, Dr. Forshee says. The first is verbal (what we say), the second is non-verbal (our body language), and the third is paraverbal.
"Paraverbal [communication] is how we say things, such as the tone of our voice, the volume, the pitch, etc.," Dr. Forshee says. "People will feel that you’re coming across harshly if you are not careful with your paraverbal communication."
If you're raising your voice to the point of yelling, for example, or speaking in a critical or judgmental tone, it can put others on edge.
Of course, it's not necessary to monitor how you sound 24/7, or to try and change your natural tone of voice. But it is something to keep in mind, for those moments when you want to come off as warm, welcoming, or understanding.
9. Blocking Yourself Off
By physically blocking yourself from others, you can seem distant or tuned out, without even meaning to. Take being on your phone, for example. If you're holding it in front of you, or not looking up from your texts, it can make it difficult for others to interact IRL.
"Always being on the phone can make you unapproachable and disinterested in what others have to say," Cali Estes, PhD., therapist and founder of The Addictions Academy, tells Bustle. "If you are always texting/talking while you are supposed to be present with someone else, you can come off as distracted, cold, and insensitive."
Of course, if you need to use your phone, then do it. And if you want to cross your arms, go for it. But if your goal is to have a healthy, positive interaction with someone, keeping these small habits in mind — and avoiding them when necessary — can go a long way in connecting with others.