Social Cues: 13 Ways to Recognize Subtle Signs People Give Away

Social cues are universal cues in many forms, learning to read them, while listening to a person’s words, will give you a better social perspective.

Social Cues: 13 Ways to Recognize Subtle Signs People Give Away

Human beings are very complex creatures. Often, what we say and what we mean and feel, aren’t always the same. Knowing how to read people’s social cues is an important component of finding happiness, being self-assured ,and having a high self-esteem. But, not everyone understands what social cues are or how important they are to your emotional well-being.

Social cues are the ways that people send messages nonverbal and verbal through their movements, facial expressions, or actions. Because each person communicates their feelings differently, if a person only looked for social cues alone, they might be lost in a sea of confusion.

13 important social cues you might be missing

There are some major cues, however, that can help you to react appropriately in social situations and settings. If you get these universal social cues, it might help you better succeed personally and professionally, or at a minimum, know when you are turning someone off or on.

  1. Back off.  Everyone knows the “close talker” except the close talker himself. In social situations, people need something called their “personal space.” It is a zone around us that we keep to distance ourselves appropriately from others.

Close talkers don’t understand the comfort zone and often cross the line. When someone approaches you and comes in too close to talk to you *or touches you* without you sending them the “go” sign, it can be a huge turnoff and have someone looking for an exit.

The sign that you have invaded someone’s personal bubble is that the person will typically try to back away from you. Or, try to evade the situation altogether.

Someone’s personal zone is about three feet, so getting any closer unless you are invited to do so, is not a socially comfortable thing. Being aware of other people’s social space can help you to be more accepted in social interactions.

#2 Tone of voice. The way that you move your voice up and down is a signal about how important what you are saying is. If someone is speaking loudly, or is very animated, what they are saying is highly important to them and should be paid attention to.

When you are in a heated conversation with your mate or boss, and they stress certain phrases, or have a lot of variation in the tone of their voice, it is imperative that you listen. What they are saying is meant to be heard and followed. What they are saying is not as important as the way that they are saying it.

That is why if someone says “I’m not mad” when yelling their words and their social cues don’t coincide, I would go with the assumption that if they weren’t angry, they wouldn’t be so loud about it. Higher pitches typically mean that a person is excited, while lower means that they are more serious about what they are saying.

#3 Texting and emailing. A new phenomenon of the past several decades is text and email messages. I would argue that these forms of communication have caused more wars than anything else in the history of communication.

Why? It is because we read messages from the perspective we have about a situation or person. When someone sends you a message, try to take your own assumptions out of it and read it exactly as written to gain a better understanding of what it really says.

“What are you doing today?” could be read as “Are you being lazy again?” to someone who is already feeling bad about how involved they have been when it really might be asking nothing more than “what you are doing?”

Social cues are incredibly hard to decipher through text or written messages. If you want to be heard and understood, the best way to be so is by verbally talking to someone or picking up the phone.

#4 Looking someone in the eye. Eye contact is one of the most critical social cues there is. When someone doesn’t look you in the eye, it can send a various number of signals. Typically, when someone doesn’t look you in the eye, it means that they are uncomfortable, guilty, feeling awkward, or that they have something to say that they aren’t saying.

If someone won’t look you in the eye when talking to you, then the social cue they are sending is that whatever communication you are having isn’t exactly on the up and up. There is something behind their lack of interaction that they are avoiding.

#5 Shifting around in their chair. If you are having a conversation with someone and they are fidgeting or shifting around in their seat, that is a social cue that they are either bored or that they are uncomfortable with what you are saying.

Shifting around in a chair is their way of telling you that they would rather be somewhere other than where they are. It is a nervous habit that some people have that says they are disinterested, have other things on their mind, or just don’t want to be where they are.

#6 Crossing your arms. When someone is crossing their arms while talking to you, they are guarding themselves against you and what you have to say. It is almost like a sign that your messages aren’t being heard or wanted.

A defensive move, if someone has crossed arms, you will often find yourself doing the same thing. It is a way of closing off a conversation that you aren’t agreeing with, or are trying not to have a conversation with a person that you don’t really want to have one with.

#7 The way someone dresses. We don’t just put our clothes on without thinking and feeling. Often, we find clothes that fit the mood we are in. Whether it is the color of the dress or its length, what we put on to wear is a huge social clue about who and what we are.

That is why there is such a thing as a power suit or a “night out” outfit. The clothes you wear send a message to those around you about what you want and who you are, whether you recognize it or not.

#8 Facial expressions. One social cue that is unmistakable and often uncontrollable, is the facial expression that we display to others. If you are upset, angered, or happy, it will almost always show in your face, even if you try to hide it.

The mood that you feel on the inside typically shows on the outside by the way that your face appears. One of the biggest indicators of social cues is the way a person expresses their emotions through facial expressions.

#9 Their smile. A smile is not just a smile, it is a social cue about how someone really feels about something. There is a true difference between a genuine smile and one that is forced; they are very different things.

If someone is only giving you a halfway smile, that isn’t showing that they are pleased. That is sending the message that they want you to think they are pleased, but they really aren’t. A genuine smile is something where the message is clear, something or someone has made a person happy.

#10 Checking their phone. If someone is checking their mobile device, that is a social cue that you are boring them or that they are disinterested in what you have to say. Don’t mistake it for being busy. If they can’t wait until you are done talking to focus on whatever is happening on their phone, the social cue sent is that the mobile device is way more important than you.

#11 They suddenly stop talking or communicating. If someone is suddenly silent or seems to drop out of the conversation, then the chances are good that you have said something offensive or that they don’t want to talk about the subject anymore. Shutting down communication is often a sign that someone wants to get end the conversation they are having.

#12 Mirroring what you do. If you notice social cues in someone else, it might be a good idea to check yourself. When someone crosses their arms or gives you a look of excitement, even if they don’t seem so, they might be mirroring your social cues to tell you that they are on board and listening.

Before you assume that they are sending you alternate signs, take a look at what you are showing them. They might just be mirroring your actions and cues.

#13 Verbal affirmation. When you are having a conversation with someone, and they suddenly chime in with one word, they are sending you the message that they are listening attentively. Don’t misunderstand it for stealing the show or being overpowering.

Sometimes just shouting out a phrase or word is their way of saying “you have my attention and I am actively listening and engaging.” Even if you think it is disruptive, it might not mean to be. So, temper your replies accordingly.

Sometimes listening to the social cues that someone is sending you is more important than the words coming from their mouths. Learning to read other people’s body language isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

If you understand these social cues and what they might be telling you, then you will probably have an easier time in social situations, take chances when you might not have, or back off when it appears that you are coming on too strong or making someone feel uncomfortable.

When in a conversation, or communicating with someone, it is important to listen to their words. And also what their body is telling you to get a good idea of what they really mean and feel on the inside. Then you’ll be a master of social cues.

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