10 habits that make you unapproachable, according to psychology

What makes someone appear aloof?  

And what do they do differently from those who are deemed more approachable?  

When we hear someone described as unapproachable, we imagine them being anything from grumpy, disagreeable, and aggressive to boring, weird, or even a bit psychotic.   

On the other hand, when we say someone is approachable, we’re really suggesting that we perceive them as likeable, friendly, and easy to talk to.  

Is it any wonder why this puts people at ease and even encourages them to chat more? 

If you feel you err on the side of ‘unapproachable’, it could be something simple that is giving people that impression. 

It could be an expression, a stance, or an awful T-shirt you really need to stop wearing (kidding).  

But seriously, there are a few key things that make a massive impact on how friendly and inviting we are viewed as.  

Let’s dive into them!  

Here we have 10 habits that make you unapproachable, according to psychology. 

1) You are self-contained

The more animated among us are perceived as being the most social.  

Whereas those with more serene expressions are thought of as indifferent.  

This is because expressions of emotion have been found to indicate emotional empathy, thereby making people seem more open and interesting to others.  

On the other hand, a study suggests that people who are thought to be suppressing their emotions are automatically considered less likable than more expressive people. 

And this doesn’t tend to change with culture: approachability ratings based on faces have also been found to be comparable across genders and ethnicities

There is a lot to be said about the phenomenon of emotional contagion. Since emotions are infectious, it stands to reason that we are most likely to approach someone who is radiating happiness, peace, and positivity. 

And what about those among us with are naturally withdrawn?  

There is nothing wrong with it!  

Some of the most fascinating people that ever lived were famously standoffish – think Greta Garbo, George Bernard Shaw, and Nikola Tesla, to name a few!

However, looking withdrawn in social contexts can result in people relating some negative personality traits to you, including:  

So, be aware. Your self-containment may be making you seem distant and detached.  

2) Not getting physically close enough to others

It’s the cliche of the odd party guest that lurks in the shadows, distant, avoidant, and even a little sinister…  

Look, you may just want to keep yourself to yourself, but not sitting or standing close to others makes you seem anti-social.  

This is because a physical retreat triggers psychological mechanisms that suggest a flight or fight response. In other words, people will assume you are defensive and guarded.  

Not getting physically close enough to others to make conversation possible will send a clear signal of your unapproachability.  

Studies have also shown that we are more likely to stand closer to people who appear to be enjoying themselves than we are to those who do not or simply have a neutral expression. 

So, mixing more literally makes you someone people want to be around!  

3) Being all teched up

Earphones in, mobile in hand, glued to your gym watch, chatting on your phone… whatever form it takes, being all teched up sends a strong sign of unapproachability

And for many reasons. 

First, people tend to think you want to be left alone (which you may well do!). 

Secondly, people may be reluctant to interrupt your concentration or conversation.  

And thirdly, people don’t want to embarrass themselves.  

(Unfortunately, this is me. I’m forever responding to people I think are speaking to me only to find they’re on the phone. I feel a right fool every time!)  

4) Not smiling

A smile is a powerful thing.  

It signals warmth, acceptance, fellowship, and empathy.  

And suggests humor and fun!  

Studies have found that facial characteristics play a big part in whether we perceive others as trustworthy (i.e. approachable) or not.  

And a big, Duchene smile is the most common key characteristic of a person who is considered approachable

So, not using your smile is a mistake if you want to invite people into your company.  

5) Having closed body language

behaviors give impression youre not truly listening 10 habits that make you unapproachable, according to psychology

Beyond a happy countenance, there is plenty of body language that invites others in, including keeping your head high, angling your body toward others, not fidgeting, and nodding as people speak.  

And the opposite, i.e. having closed body language, has the opposite effect.  

Body language’s role in what we perceive people to be like cannot be understated.   

Imagine someone standing or sitting with crossed arms, poor posture, and a pronounced frown… 

Is there anything that screams, “stay away” more? It is a universally clear non-verbal message.  

So, to avoid closed body language and be more inviting to others, why not lean into the conversation?  

Psychology shows that leaning in actually facilitates better communication and understanding between people because it creates proximity, which encourages trust and openness.  

6) Not being aware of your feet

Our feet tell a huge amount about what we’re feeling, they literally point towards what we like and where we want to go. This happens subconsciously and long before our brains or bodies get around to it.  

Toes pointed forward indicate confidence and openness to interaction.  

So, be mindful of the direction your feet are pointing. They could be giving people subconscious clues as to your comfort and interest level.  

And watch out for other people’s feet…  

That person you want to speak to, are their feet pointed towards you, someone else in another group, or the exit?  

Take note. 

7) Avoiding eye contact

Not making (and maintaining) eye contact makes people uncomfortable, and avoiding eye contact entirely comes across as unnatural.  

Neither of which indicate someone who is warm and open to conversation!  

On the other hand, looking into people’s eyes frequently says you respect them and are interested in what they have to say. 

Just don’t overdo it and stare at them – this will freak them out! 

8) Not mirroring others

Subconsciously imitating the gestures, speech patterns, or attitudes of others (i.e. mirroring) is a powerful communication technique that builds rapport and connection instantly.  

It also ensures cooperation… 

In fact, studies show that mirroring gets greater compliance with requests, makes you highly persuasive, helps salespeople achieve higher sales figures, and helps waiting staff get bigger tips.  

So, if you’re not mirroring, not only are you sending out unapproachable vibes but you’re also missing out!  

9) Not signaling similarity

You’ve heard the saying, “opposites attract”? 

Well, forget it.  

Studies have found that we are most likely to gravitate towards those that are like us.  

This is called the similarity-attraction effect, and it applies to both romantic and social contexts. 

According to the American Psychological Association, people are mostly likely to find others interesting and attractive when they share similar interests. 

So, if people aren’t finding you approachable, it could be due to a lack of similarity signaling by you.  

10) Dressing in certain ways

Ever been to a sports bar just before a big game, supporters coming in from opposing sides, distinguishable from each other only by their jerseys.  

Each team’s supporters gravitate towards each other, feeling a sense of comradery and unity… Another nod to the similarity-attraction effect. 

But this is not the only way how we dress impacts how we appear to others.  

A recent study have found what we wear has a big influence on how others perceive our approachability.  

Softer, freer clothes in pale, muted tones were seen as more inviting. Whereas bolder, darker colors and structured, fitted clothing was seen to indicate more rigidity and therefore less approachability. 

It was also found that for women, dressing casually improved their perceived approachability, while men dressing formally improved theirs.   


Final thoughts 

I hear you say, why do I care if I’m seen as unapproachable anyway? 

Well, studies show that being considered approachable may be in your best interest.  

This is because approachability in people is associated with a lot of positive traits such as enthusiasm, non-judgmentalism, trustworthiness, empathy, and humor.

Being considered approachable makes people more likely to trust you, more willing to share with you, and more likely to communicate better with you. 

So, if these results sound agreeable, maybe it’s time to finesse the signals you’re sending! 

Niamh McNamara

Niamh McNamara

A freelance writer fascinated with human nature and social dynamics, Niamh read literature, history, and philosophy at university before spending time in journalism and PR. Armed with a passion for words and ideas, and a healthy appreciation of the ridiculous, she tries to make sense of it all. Connect with Niamh on X @NBMcnamara123

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