We can all get nervous or self-conscious at certain times, particularly when we feel as though we’re being watched. But how good are you at spotting when someone else is uncomfortable?
Here are four common signs that someone may not be enjoying your company:
1. They touch or rub their neck
The neck is home to nerve endings that, when touched, can help lower your heart rate and calm you down. If a person feels uncomfortable, they may unconsciously touch their necks to activate those nerves.
A former FBI agent Joe Navarro, who has written several books on nonverbal behaviour, wrote that when people are insecure, troubled, scared or nervous, they covered or touched their neck.
“Neck touching and/or stroking is one of the most significant and frequent pacifying behaviours we use in responding to stress. Some people rub or massage the back of their neck with their fingers; others stroke the sides of their neck or just under the chin above the Adam’s apple, tugging at the fleshy area of the neck. This area is rich with nerve endings that, when stroked, reduce blood pressure, lower the heart rate, and calm the individual down.
“Typically, men are more robust in their pacifying behaviours, grasping or cupping the front of their neck (under the chin) with their hand, thereby stimulating the nerves (specifically, the vagus nerves or the carotid sinus) of the neck, which in turn slows the heart rate down and have a calming effect.”
2. Feet pointed away
The position of a person’s feet can be a strong indicator of how they feel about the situation they are in. If their feet are pointed away from the person they are talking to, it’s often a signal that they would rather not be having the conversation.
In 2009, one of Britain’s leading psychologists Professor Geoff Beattie found that women will cross their legs or tuck them under their body if they are uninterested in the man they are speaking to.
“People can mask smiles, or mask what they are doing with their eyes, but feet are actually a bit easier to read because people don’t know what they are doing with them,” Professor Beattie said.
3. Avoiding eye contact
No one maintains eye contact for the whole length of a conversation, but if they look away they should look back at the person they’re speaking with. If they’re looking everywhere but you, they’re probably not comfortable.
Pay attention to where they’re looking at as well. If they keep looking at another person in the room, chances are they want to talk to them instead.
Adrian Furnham, a psychologist, wrote: “A gazer may invite interaction by staring at another person on the other side of a room. The target’s studied return of the gaze is generally interpreted as acceptance of the invitation, while averting the eyes is a rejection of the request.
“We deal with embarrassment by looking away; it discourages further conversation. We ignore and punish behaviour simply by gaze aversion.”
4. Withdrawing or blocking
According to Daniel Wendler, an author on social skills, there are several signs that a person you’re talking to might be uncomfortable. One of these is referred to as “withdrawing or blocking”.
“If someone is in conversation, and they become uncomfortable with the person or the topic of conversation, they’ll try to pull back or place objects between them and their partner,” Wendler writes.
“They might lean away, or adjust their chair so that they’re not facing the person directly, or they might cross their arms to block their chest and/or cross their legs so that their knee is between them and the other person.”