10 Body Language Mistakes You Might Be Making

10 Ways Social Anxiety Can Interfere with Open Body Language

Even chimps can send off the wrong signals. Renett Stowe/Flickr

If you suffer with social anxiety disorder (SAD), chances are that you tend to adopt a "closed" style of body language.

This means that the way you carry yourself tells others that you want to be left alone. It also means that you look anxious and nervous in social situations.

Even though it can be tough to change what might feel like natural body positions, changing your body language to appear more "open" will send a better message to those around you.

 Eventually with time, this new style will take less effort; you might even start to feel less anxious as a result.

Below are 10 body language mistakes that you might be making right now—and tips on how to fix them.

1. Slouching

Stop and look at how you are sitting or standing right now. Are you slouched over or upright? Are your shoulders down with arms comfortable at your sides, or are you scrunched up, trying to take up as little space as possible? 

2. Looking Down 

When you slouch, you probably also look down. Maybe you look down when you walk, when you meet someone, or during conversation. Looking down tells others that you are anxious or have something to hide.

3. Weak Handshake

When first meeting new acquaintances do you offer a firm handshake or a limp noodle? That limp noodle is doing you more harm than good, even though it might feel like your natural way to shake hands. 

4. Faking a Smile 

Are your smiles genuine?

Others will be able to tell if you are faking a smile because only your mouth will be involved.

5. Angling Your Body Away

People with SAD value their personal space; if someone gets too close it can feel like you are being invaded. At the same time, it is important to watch how you angle your body when with others.

Facing slightly away from someone sends the message that you are not interested. 

6. Avoiding Eye Contact

Although it can be tempting to look down or away when someone talks to you, avoiding eye contact indicates disinterest. Practice looking into other people's eyes about 60% of the time; any amount greater than this will start to appear like staring. 

7. Folding Your Arms

Whether you are doing it because you are cold, anxious, or simply more comfortable that way, crossing your arms in front of you sends the message for other people to stay away. Don't do it.

8. Fidgeting

Do you fidget with your hair, your pen, or your clothes? Stop fidgeting and you will appear more confident and less anxious. Fidgeting also makes it hard for others to concentrate on what you are saying, especially if you are giving a presentation.

9. Blocking

Blocking involves placing objects between you and another person to make you feel more "safe." For example, you might block with a book, your computer, or other electronic device.

Remove the objects to make the other person feel more connected to you.

10. Distractions

Although you might feel less anxious if you can take a brief pause from your conversation to check an email or send a text message, doing so tells the other person that you don't value the interaction. Stay focused on the person you are with as much as possible; if you must multi-task, apologize first and get it done quickly.

Finally, here are some tips to hep you win the body language game.

Stand up Straight. If your tendency is to slouch, try picturing an imaginary string attached to the top of your head and the ceiling. Let that image pull your head upward and your body out of the slouched position. You should immediately feel more confident.

Make Eye Contact. If looking others in the eye feels too hard, try looking at a spot between their eyes. They'll never know.

Give a Strong Handshake. Practice a firm handshake that shows you have confidence and are sure of yourself.

Smile for Real. With a real smile, the upper part of your face changes as well... your eyes scrunch up a little and you get crows feet. Try to stop and think about why you are smiling and whether you really mean it.

Lean In. Leaning in shows openness and attention.


Forbes. Ten Worst Body Language Mistakes. Accessed April 25, 2013.

Cornerstone Coaching and Training. 10 Most Common Body Language Mistakes. Accessed April 25, 2013.

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