You’ve probably 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. As it turns out, there are some common behaviors you can use as hints that someone was just talking about you.
While it's important not to jump to conclusions or assume the worst about a person, their reaction and behavior 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 you do sense tension or think there’s conflict, talk to them about it! 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 will now 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,” Boquin says.
Read on for a few body language cues that may be signs someone is talking about you behind your back.
1 Their Personality Seems Different enigma_images/E+/Getty Images
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." 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 nervous 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 awkward, but they can be dealt with in a mature way.
3 They Seem Super Uncomfortable
Want to test your hunch? "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, or do they try to end [or] 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. But remember, just because someone visibly freezes as if they were caught doesn’t necessarily mean they were saying anything bad. Hey, they could be planning a surprise birthday party! 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 act this way. If someone has social anxiety, for example, they might come off as stiff, so it's important not to jump to conclusions or assume the worst.
6 They Overcompensate
If they are acting far more friendly than usual, that’s definitely a sign that something is up, as
Traci Brown, a body language expert and author of , explains to Bustle. When someone's caught doing something wrong, or they aren't sure what to do next, they might try to overcompensate. "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,” Wood notes. However, it’s also important to remember that they might not necessarily be saying anything Persuasion Point bad about you. For example, they may be expressing concern or worry about you to someone else, hence why they are being more friendly than usual. 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." If someone has a history of being a bit disingenuous or gossipy in a hurtful way, consider
separating yourself from that person. No one needs that energy in their life. 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?
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 that something's up. 9 Their Feet Point Towards The Door
If their toes are pointing toward an exit, "they may [be symbolically running] from the room by pointing their feet away from you and towards the door," Wood says. In general, feet pointing toward an exit indicate — either consciously or subconsciously — that a person’s brain is processing an escape route. This is something people subconsciously do when they want to leave a room. And it may be exactly what they’re 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 or defensive. "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."
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that this body language could be in response to them being uncomfortable around you for myriad reasons, not solely because they are talking behind your back.
11 They Turn Their Back To You aire images/Moment/Getty Images
Closed-off body language is one thing, but someone who was talking behind your back might even be more overt than that when they see you. “They may just flat out turn their back to you,” Brown says. If someone is actively turning their back to you or facing the other way when you are near or walk into a room, it’s a pretty clear indication that they don’t want to interact with you, whatever the reason. If you find it happening quite a lot, try talking to them about it and say that it’s making you feel a bit unwelcome.
12 They Start Fidgeting
Another behavior to look out for is fidgeting, and specifically self-soothing behaviors in someone else. You probably have a nervous habit or two that you do when you’re put in a stressful situation, such as twiddling a strand of hair or bouncing your knee up and down.
"When someone is uncomfortable around you, they might start engaging in self-soothing behaviors," Adina Mahalli, MSW, a certified mental health and relationship expert, previously told Bustle. "This could even be a subconscious reaction, but things like playing with an earring, fidgeting, or neck rubbing” are signs that
someone is uncomfortable, say, from being face to face with someone they were just talking about behind their back. 13 They Start Scrambling
It’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. If you get the sense that someone is flustered or people disperse when you walk into a room, then something might be up. “There's a certain way that people behave — it's called a baseline — and you're looking for shifts on that, either of an individual or of a group,” Brown says. “For instance, if all of a sudden when you walk up people kind of scramble a little bit, then that is a sign as well.” If you notice something out of the ordinary, such as people quickly moving around, your instinct is probably correct in identifying that
something is going on. 14 They’re Non-Inclusive
Especially in a group setting, you can tell if there is a vibe shift based on body language. “You may see things that start to go on with non-inclusive behavior,” Brown says. “In a group, people will stand or sit in a certain way to include people. They'll make a space for you or not.”
If you suspect there are multiple people who are talking behind your back, you might be able to see who is leading the pack, so to speak, simply by the way people position themselves in a group. “They may tell you who's important in the group by the way they cross their legs,” Brown says. “They'll cross their legs towards the leader of the group, the unconscious leader of the group.”
15 You Have A Gut Feeling
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.
Experts: Eliza G. Boquin , MA, LMFT, licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert Patti Wood , MA, body language expert Toni Coleman , LCSW, CMC, psychotherapist Traci Brown , body language expert and author of Persuasion Point Adina Mahalli, MSW, certified mental health and relationship expert
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This article was originally published on
Aug. 1, 2018