We all tend to believe that we can read other people and know if we have made them uncomfortable. However is this really the case? Sometimes the signals that tell us someone is uncomfortable are very subtle or hidden beneath a polite laugh. Here are three easy ways to tell if someone wants you to backup.
When we feel uncomfortable with the words that someone has said to us, we tend to engage in blocking behaviour. Blocking is where we use an object or our own bodies to block out external forces. This could be a folding of the arms, clutching a drink or a phone/tablet in front of our chests, or using a bag. I have been known, when a conversation became a little uncomfortable during a networking event to swing my bag in front of my torso to block out the other person. This why I use a cross body bag and feel very uncomfortable when I do not have this. The blocking motion is used as a crutch (in this case the bag is my crutch) to help me feel less uncomfortable.
It is particularly important that you watch for a change in behaviour. If during the conversation the blocking begins either with the bag or perhaps a folding of the arms, pay attention. What did you just say which might have made the other person feel uncomfortable.
You need to ask yourself a question. Are you a space invader? Perhaps when excited with the conversation you are naturally leaning in. However watch what the other person is doing. If they are stepping back away from you, this is a sign that they are uncomfortable. It is important that you respect people’s need for space, as every person is different. I have a much greater need for personal space than others, so I find myself backing away quite often!
As I mentioned in the article 3 ways to nonverbally know if someone is attracted to you (link) when we like something we want to be closer to it. The opposite stands also. If we dislike something, either the person or the topic being discussed our bodies will try and get away from it. Again watch for the changes in behaviour. Look for the body to be angled away, them to take a step or two back. All of this signifies that they are uncomfortable. Further investigation will need to be done to find out why, but I suggest you check if you are too close and look at the topic you are discussing.
During your conversation watch for pursed lips. We close our mouths when we become distressed and stress or fear causes our lips to tighten. If we are really anxious we might push our lips together so they ‘disappear’. Ask a woman what she wears and you will see this motion with the lips before she answers you.
If you see someone lip pursing during your conversation, this is sending at worst a signal of disagreement with the words you are saying. At best they may have an alternative viewpoint. I suggest that you backup verbally and perhaps ask them for their opinion on the matter.
Learning how to recognise these signals will help you backup repair relationships and apologise for offence. In the long run this should make you a master communicator, as you will be able to understand how the other person is feeling in your conversations.