30 Unkind Things You’re Doing Without Even Realizing It

Just because you "didn't mean to" doesn't mean you weren't mean.

30 Unkind Things You’re Doing Without Even Realizing It

Kindness is an essential component of a happy life, and not just for those on the receiving end. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, performing acts of kindness increases the overall wellbeing of the performer, as well as the recipient. The only problem? Despite your best efforts, odds are you’re doing some unkind things to friends, family, and acquaintances on a daily basis without even realizing it.

As Emily Pihlquist, certified life coach and founder of Click Life Coaching warns, we “all too often commit an act of unkindness when we intend to do the opposite.”

So, if you’re eager to make the world a better place—or just do right by your fellow human beings, it’s time to nix these unkind things you’re doing without even realizing it.

Not Being Clear With Your Relationship Expectations

man on phone social media online

Breadcrumbing,” says Yamarie Grullon, a certified life coach, “is the act of sending out non-committal, often low-effort cues to someone else on a regular basis.” This manifests itself, she says, in things like “the guy who occasionally checks in but never asks [someone] out,” or the girl who “ghosts [someone] but occasionally likes a bunch of [their] photos.”

While you may not realize what you’re doing is unkind—thinking you’re simply checking in with an acquaintance—your actions could very well be interpreted as giving false hope. Unfortunately, she says, in an increasingly digital world, “this behavior is becoming more and more common and more commonly accepted as the ‘new age’ way of flirting.”

Keeping Criticisms To Yourself

unkind things

“All too often,” says Pihlquist, “we commit an act of unkindness when we intend to do the opposite.” One great example of this irony, she says, is when we stay mum about someone else’s behavior that we do not like, or find reason to criticize. While this may appear kind on the surface, she explains, “by staying mum you’re not giving that person an opportunity to reflect on how they impact others and then correct the offending behavior.” Instead, it would actually be kinder to let them know—gently—your disapproval, perhaps even offering constructive tips on how they could improve going forward.

Being Passive Aggressive

unkind things

Besides being hurtful to others, says David Barbour, co-founder of Vivio Life Sciences, passive aggressive behavior may often “be unbeknownst to the individual acting in such a manner.” The reason, he explains, is that the aggression may be caused by “unconscious resistances to a person or activity,” causing us to lash out without understanding why. Instead of being “acutely aware [of] being unkind,” he says, it may just seem as if the situation is “deeply upsetting” for no apparent reason.

Laughing Privately In A Public Setting

two guys at laptops laughing at anti-jokes

While you may not feel like explaining the joke to everyone in your friend circle at the time, laughing about a private joke while in the midst of others is an unkind behavior best avoided. “[Since] everyone wants to share a good laugh,” says Caleb Backe, a Health & Wellness Expert at Maple Holistics, “you can either share the joke with the rest of the group or don’t bring it up at all.”

Sweeping Your Hurtful Actions Under The Rug

signs you're not ready to have kids

“Instead of saying a simple ‘I’m sorry,'” says Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, “people can sweep things under the rug and act like it never happened.” While this might be easier in the moment, it invalidates the hurt that you’ve inflicted—accidentally or not—and can often leave the other person feeling as if the situation remains unresolved.

Not RSVPing

RSVP card etiquette rules

“The most annoying and rudest thing you can do,” says Backe, “is not RSVP.” While you may have simply forgotten to do so, whatever the event, there are a lot of things that revolve around your response—amount of food and booze to order, how many plates to set, how large a space to book—meaning getting back to the hosts should be a top priority. “Don’t be the person,” explains Backe, “who holds everything up.”

Saying What’s On Your Mind Despite Others Trying To Signal That It Is Hurtful

father yelling at son

While saying what’s on your mind can sometimes be a helpful practice, says McBain, it’s not very nice when it’s done despite “the non-verbals from those around you that what’s being said is hurtful.” The fact is, there’s a time and place for everything—so it’s wise to pay attention to those around you when they’re trying to let you know that now isn’t the time or the place. And for some things that are offensive no matter what context you say them in, check out these 20 Things You’re Saying You Didn’t Know Were Offensive.

Not Holding The Door Open For Others

unkind things

“If you rush through a doorway and let it slam in front of the person behind you,” explains Backe, “you’re being plain rude.” In addition being greatly appreciated by whomever is on the receiving end of your gesture, he continues, it’s also painless, and “will at most take a minute of your time.”

Not Noticing Others

news app millennials

Sometimes, says McBain, we can become so wound up in our own lives that “when someone says hello…[we] either don’t hear them or don’t take the time to acknowledge them.” While it’s an honest mistake, it’s an unkind gesture (or, rather, lack thereof) and one that—with a little mindfulness—can easily be counteracted.

Using “Actually” or “Just” In Conversation

woman talking to another woman

While these two words may appear innocuous, they can come off as quite unkind when used casually. Consider the difference between “The boss needs the report by Friday” and “Actually, the boss needs the report by Friday.” Similarly, consider the difference between “You need to pick your head up” and “You just need to pick your head up.” Without adding much to your message’s content, these words serve to make them sound more unkind by minimizing the position and concerns of your recipient.

Always Relating Others’ Stories To Yourself

unkind things

While you might think you’re being helpful by telling a friend who is complaining about difficulties in their life that “you’ve been through the exact same thing,” it actually comes off as rather dismissive. As much as a person may enjoy to hear that they’re not alone in their troubles, that kindness is outweighed by the sense that you’re being self-involved, only listening to them insofar as they remind you of your own past. Instead, a simple recognition that you comprehend the direness of their situation—as well as an offer to help—will go a much longer way towards relieving their burden.

Not Accepting Compliments

unkind things not listening

For many people, accepting compliments can be a difficult thing. Whether it’s due to modesty, a lack of self-esteem, or simply the feeling that the praise isn’t deserved, hearing nice things about ourselves can really set some people off. But while it’s good not to let flattery get to your head, rejecting it outright is not only a rebuff of yourself, but of the person complimenting you, as well. That doesn’t mean you have to believe every nice thing that’s said about you, but simply that—agree or not—it’s best to bite your tongue and offer a simple “thank you” in return.

Not Accepting Help, Gifts, or Offers

Person rejecting a muffin, unhealthy habits

Sure there’s something nice about self-sufficiency, but if you’re always the one who—as a guest someone else’s home—rejects all their offers of food, drink, or kindness, you’re not only depriving yourself, but your host, as well. The fact is, people enjoy helping others—it brings a certain warm glow to their heart to see their actions positively impact someone else. By refusing their attempts at doing so, then,  you take away their opportunity to feel that glow. And that just isn’t very kind.

Calling Your Friends Names

30 compliments

Sure it can seem harmless to refer to a good friend as a “jerk”—such as in “Hey, ya big jerk”—or things of that nature. In fact, these kinds of statements often roll off the tongue. Still, even if a derogatory word isn’t being used in its traditional sense, it can be hurtful to be referred to as one constantly. While this usage may be second nature at this point, there’s no better time to start thinking about the names you call your friends.  

Making People Feel Stupid About Their Lack Of Expertise

culture shock, arguing with friends

In a modern economy, most people need to gain some sort of expertise. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t become a reason to make others feel dumb about their lack of knowledge in your specified field. Instead of scoffing at their questions which reveal a lack of awareness of the topic—as would be a natural reaction—try taking a second to think about how you’d want them to respond should the two of you switch places. You just might find yourself acting quite different.

Asking People If They Have Kids

man talking to a woman

Sure it might seem like just another question, but inquiring into another person’s family situation crosses the line into unkindness. The fact is, there’s no reason to be asking someone whom you  are not that familiar with whether or not they have kids. Besides being none of your business, the question itself can bring up painful memories, complex emotions, or place an undue burden of pressure upon your conversation partner.

Talking On The Phone While Checking Out At The Store

Worst Things to Say to Customer Service

Again, this may seem like something that isn’t that big a deal; after all, your checkout person wasn’t expecting to have a conversation, were they? Nonetheless, they deserve your full attention—they’re trying to do their job, and part of that job just might involve asking you a question. In addition to making their lives a little harder, you also inconvenience those on line behind you, whose times has been disregarded just so you could continue telling your friend about how poorly your last date went.

Not Making Introductions

party introduction

When you know two or more people who are meeting each other for the first time, it’s proper to make introductions. While it may occasionally slip your mind, it’s important not to leave others hanging, putting your own enthusiasm about seeing an old friend again above making others feel comfortable.

Being Too Nice

Friends Reasons Smiling is Good for You

Being nice is almost always a good thing—except when it gets in the way of delivering hard truths to your friends. When that happens, basically, you’re selfishly sparing yourself some discomfort at the expense of your friend’s improvement.

Crossing Your Arms

Man with No Smile Body Language That Kills First Impressions

Crossing your arms can be a comfy, warmth-inducing position, but it can also make you appear standoffish. Before unconsciously telling others with your body language that you want no part of them, consider finding something else to do with your upper body’s lengthy appendages.

Not Reading Social Cues About Others Mood

couple fighting mean man

Though you may be bursting at the seams to celebrate, say, new promotion with your roommate, you never know if something bad happened to them on the same day. (Who knows: maybe their dog died.) Before rushing in and exclaiming your newfound joy to a tear-stained face, make sure whomever you’re espousing joy to is in the same mind as you to celebrate. By failing to pick up on subtle clues that a person is struggling, it’s possible to make things worse by countering sadness with unbridled—and unwelcome—enthusiasm.

Isolating Yourself

elderly people party gathering

All too often, an anxious person will enter a social gathering only to post themselves up in the corner, away from the crowds. While this is solely due to their own difficulties, it comes off as a pretentious gesture, as if they are too good to mingle with others. Avoid this unkind gesture by remaining social at social gatherings, even if you find yourself with strong inclinations to do just the opposite.

Groaning And Sighing

Boss is sighing, angry and annoyed, things to never say to boss

Without realizing it, many of us often emit noises in reaction to our environment. Groaning and sighing are just two of those expressions—but two that are best avoided. The fact is, even if what another person is saying or doing does offend us, there are better, less blunt ways of letting them know than openly sighing. Because while non-verbal communication is important, it shouldn’t be the only open line of communication.


unkind things

When you’re thinking hard—or simply concentrating—it’s a good bet you often scowl, furrowing your brow and grimacing. While this isn’t intentional, it can come off to others as if you’re making an unkind face at them. By being more conscious of the way your state of mind is reflected on your exterior, you can avoid making this unkind appearance in public to those who were merely hoping for a smile in return.

Cancelling Plans

words that people over 30 won't get

While you may have had a perfectly good reason for cancelling plans, making a habit of doing so tells friends and acquaintances that you don’t really value your commitments to them. If you really have to skip out at the last minute, make sure to explain to them your situation, so that they don’t feel as if they’ve been dropped due to a mere whim.

Forgetting Names

forgetful woman against a gray background

Though only politicians and PR reps are held responsible for remembering the names of every person they meet, the average person still shouldn’t need to be reminded constantly about the names of people who play a part in their lives. Forgetting the names of those whom you interact with often signals to them that they aren’t worth the small effort it takes to connect a name with a face.

Inviting, Then Expecting To Split The Tab

things women don't understand about men

If you invite friends out for an occasion, you shouldn’t expect them to split the tab. After all, you’re the one who set up the event, so why should they be expected to partake in its payment. Unless specified beforehand, assuming the check will be split—despite your own work in single-handedly organizing the evening and deciding upon its location—is simply unkind.

Flagging Waiters

Things You Should Never Do in a Fancy Restaurant

Yes, a waiter is there to serve you—but they’re also there to serve many others, as well. Instead of waving your arm obnoxiously as if to say you are more important than other diners, behave just as you would with anyone else whose attention you wanted—catch their eyes, or wait for them to come to you.

Too Much PDA

making out

P.D.A., or “public displays of affection,” can sometimes be spontaneous acts of irresistible affection that can’t wait until private to be expressed. Most of the time, however, it’s a signal that participants are unaware they are in public, or think so little of others that they feel no need to censor their own affection. Needless to say, that’s not a very kind vibe to give off.

Cussing With Abandon

Angry Man Talking to Customer Service

Sometimes statements are so forceful that it’s hard to help but cuss when making them. Too much swearing, however, signals to others that you don’t respect their own opinions on the matter, and that your language choices overrule any natural avoidance others have of such strong language.

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