The Disadvantages of
Distracting Habits

Woman Covering Her Mouth

While etiquette calls us to discretion, we are still free to be who we are.  And we all have our own quirks.

But how do your quirks and mannerisms affect the perception other people have of you?

My high school English teacher required our class to memorize many literary passages, one of which was a Robert Burns poem, “To A Louse, on Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet.”

My favorite line and modernized translation reads:

Oh would some Power the gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notions, and
What airs in dress and gait would leave us…

The truth is, we are unaware of many of our body language habits.  And in many encounters, it's body language that speaks loudest. 

If you knew you had some distracting habits drawing attention from who you really are, or the perception you'd like to give, would you correct them?

You're Sending Mixed Messages

One of the reasons distracting habits are so distracting is that they send various messages, many times all at once.  The person reading your body language is so intent on figuring it out, that it is impossible to listen to your verbal language.

Some examples are:

Flipping your hair (men or women).

  • May indicate that you’ve just had a new do and you think it looks rather nice.
  • Can come across as pretentious or that you’re dying to be noticed.

Playing with the ends of your hair, or maybe even putting it in your mouth.

  • May be a habit from the innocence of childhood.
  • Can come across as gross. 

Walking with one foot directly placed in front of the other.

  • May indicate you have been a model or just want to be one.
  • Can come across as affected or unsafe.

Covering your lower face with your hand, elbow on the table.

  • May indicate that you are self-conscious, afraid or don’t want to share.
  • Can come across as hostile or passive-aggressive.

Scratching or rubbing your skin.

  • May indicate that you have dry skin or a skin condition.
  • Can come across as self-soothing, or that you're uncomfortable.

Biting or picking at your nails.

  • May indicate that you are in need of a manicure.
  • Can come across as indicating nervousness and worry.

Licking your lips.

  • May indicate that you have chapped lips.
  • Can come across as needing or wanting something badly.

There is one other message in each of distracting habits that you should be aware of: flirting.

If you catch yourself using a mannerism that sends this message you'll need to remain aware and do some self-correction, unless this is the message you want to send.

Ensuring a Positive First Impression

Whenever you meet someone new, it is important to ensure you always make a good first impression.

You have no control over someone's perception of you, but you do have control over how you present yourself.  Meeting someone for the first time while twisting your hair, avoiding eye contact, biting your lip, or showing any of the habits listed above, could easily leave the impression that you are unprofessional, self-conscious, unclean, or even untrustworthy.

Taming Distracting Habits

The key to positive first impressions and other interactions is to be mindful and aware of how you present yourself.  Practice relaxing your face and shoulders, listen to what others are saying, think before you speak, and just be present with your presence.

Body language habits cause the people you are communicating with to focus on what you’re focusing on—some part of your body—which automatically distracts from your conversation. 

In every interaction, we’re all reading social ques and body language.  Only when they send the same message as our verbal ques and words can we communicate clearly and avoid misunderstandings.

Click here for an entertaining video on proven perceptions for various body language habits.  Some of them may look familiar!

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