When we want something badly or feel unsure of ourselves, we can usually find ways to play it cool, but sometimes our body language can deceive us. Actions can speak louder than words, and there are a number of
nervous body language cues that we may not mean intentionally, but experts say to look out for. Sometimes they're hard to avoid, but becoming aware of the signals our bodies are giving off can help us put our best foot forward, better improve our relationships, or achieve our goals.
"We are never NOT communicating,"
voice and communications coach Julia Montague tells Bustle. "We can control what we say on a conscious level, but we will often ‘leak’ how we feel on a more unconscious level. We can say we are OK, and non-verbal clues such as lack of eye contact, rounding the shoulders and the tone and energy of the voice may all be the give a ways to say something very different."
If you're having a hard time connecting with people and accomplishing the relationships you want, you might want to look at how you're moving. Body language that seems nervous, overly eager, and potentially desperate can give off a different impression than you intend. To remedy this, pay attention to these nine subtle mannerisms that body language experts say might come off as unsure of yourself.
Nodding your head in agreement while speaking with another person can be a good thing when done gently and subtly. But if you nod your head too much and too vigorously, it sends an uncomfortable message that you're trying to agree with everything. "Extreme head nodders come off as insecure and unsure of themselves,"
trainer and business consultant Denise Dudley tells Bustle. "Instead, learn to keep your head level and still, and nod only occasionally, when the other person says something that would be logical to agree with."
Like nodding, smiling does all sorts of good things in a conversation, as long as it’s performed at appropriate times and for reasonable amounts of time. "However, when you smile too much, you appear as if you’re
trying too hard to be agreeable and likable," says Dudley. "Instead, smile when you first meet up with another person, smile at several appropriate points along the conversation, and be sure to smile as you say goodbye." Avoid a fixed, blank, never-changing smile that appears disingenuous and forced, and your sentiment will be conveyed more organically.
"When you fidget, you appear nervous and unsure of yourself," especially when speaking with others, says Dudley. She suggests placing your hands at your sides or on your lap and leaving them there, as well as placing your feet on the floor and sitting still in your chair. "You want to look poised and self-possessed as you interact," she says.
Playing With Your Hair/Face
Even if you are nervous, try not to play with your hair or face, as it can make you appear to be distracted, nervous, or anxious. "When you touch your face, you tend to look shifty, as if you’re trying to hide something," says Dudley. "Instead, keep your hands away from your face at all costs. Place your hands in your lap or at your sides, and let them rest calmly and peacefully."
Letting your chest drop in and your shoulders slump forward can make you look physically smaller. "It's like trying to shrink down and not be noticed,"
public speaking and communication coach Lauren Sergy tells Bustle. "It reflects feelings of uncertainty and a lack of confidence. To avoid doing this, think of holding your chest up and proud — not puffed out in arrogance, just as though your sternum is rising up slightly, like a dancer. This will also square off your shoulders and make you look and feel more confident."
Try not to ring, clasp, clench, or rub your hands. "Tension and nervousness love to live in our hands, and you'll often see [a nervous person] clenching or wringing their hands tightly or rubbing them together," says Sergy. "This really telegraphs anxiety, even if you aren't feeling particularly anxious." To avoid this, pay attention to your hands, and whenever you feel like you want to bring them together, make an opposite gesture and spread them away, she suggests, or try to keep them at your sides.
"The up-glance happens when people lower their chin toward their chest and then look 'up' at people through their eyes," says Sergy. "Interestingly, this can be accomplished even when you are taller than the other person. This up-glance is an expression of supplication, one that we use when we're asking someone else for something (a favor, forgiveness, approval, etc)." Like caving in at the chest, it is a way of making ourselves look smaller and less threatening. Rather than looking up at someone,
maintain good eye contact by keeping your chin and jaw parallel to the floor, or angle your head so that you can look at people without your eyeballs moving upwards or downwards.
Knitting your eyebrows together can make you look worried. "[People who are nervous] ... get the worried eyebrows and creased forehead that goes along with it," says Sergy. "If you find yourself with worried eyebrows or tension through your upper face, try relaxing your forehead and eyes as much as possible. Don't worry about feeling more relaxed emotionally — just try to release those forehead and eyebrow muscles and let the tension dissipate."
Pinning Your Arms At Your Side
When you are tense, you might hold your elbows and upper arms tight to your sides, and when you gesture it really shows this tension. "Confident people take up a bit more space with their arms, so take a cue from them: Hold your elbows a few inches away from your body (about the width of your fist) when you gesture," says Sergy. "This makes you look more expansive and open."
Practicing body language takes some time, but pay attention to these subtle mannerisms, and you can start to come off as more self-assured.