art of rejection

Imagine standing outside a popular bar on a Saturday night with a clipboard and pen. As each drunken patron stumbles out the door, you ask them:

“Did anyone hit on you?”

That’s exactly what 140 trained researchers from the University of Toronto did. They wanted to know how successful sexual advances are on the average night.

And they learned all about the Art of Rejection. Bottom Line:

Men have a really hard time noticing when a woman is not interested.

Nope, not all that shocking. What is surprising is that most rejection comes from miscommunication and misunderstandings that happen during flirting.

So, if you want to avoid that awkward did-he-just-touch-my butt-moment, here are some subtle body language tips you can use in bars to thwart unwanted advances:

TIP 1: Torso Turn

If you want to show someone you are not interested, the easiest thing you can do right away is turn your torso away from them. When we’re engaged with someone, we aim our torso towards them as a sign of respect. So if you’re not feeling it, an easy way you can show it is by aiming your torso away. This not only makes the distance between the two of you bigger, it also non-verbally says to them, “step away.”

TIP 2: Shake Your Head No

If the torso turn doesn’t work, the second thing you can try is shaking your head ‘no.’ We shake our head from left to right when we don’t want something. You can do this while you’re speaking as a way to nonverbally emphasize or bold your verbal no. You can also nod negatively while they’re speaking. So if they say hey, “you want to dance?” or “I’d love to get your number,” you can start shaking your head no right away and that already says to them “ah, I’ve crossed a line.”

TIP 3: Blocking

Use your purse or drink to make someone get out of your space–this is especially good for close talkers. You can hold your drink in front of you so that they can’t lean forward. The drink blocks them. You can also do this with your purse. This is a non-verbal sign of take a step back, I need more space. And women especially get very uncomfortable when someone comes into their physical space.

TIP 4: Say It Like You Mean It

Sometimes when women are nervous they use the question inflection – going up at the end of a sentence. Instead of saying ‘I don’t want to dance!’ they say ‘I don’t want to dance?’ This tells a man: I’m not sure about that ‘no.’ And men hear “maybe’ and are more likely to keep pushing. If you’re going to say no, say it like you mean it and use the authoritative tone.

Some Interesting Facts from the Study:

  • 140 researchers were told to note every incident of aggression they saw out in the Toronto bar scene. 25 percent of the incidents they saw had some kind of aggression (groping, touching, blocking). And 90 percent of the acts were committed by men. (That means 10% of women can be sexually aggressive too!)
  • You might think men are too drunk to know any better, but that’s not what the research found! The researchers found that a man’s sexual advances did not match his level of intoxication. Instead, it matched the woman’s level of intoxication–in other words, men hit on women who were drunk.
  • Two thirds of the aggression was physical, 17 percent threatened physical contact and 9 percent verbally harassed their targets.


“Blurred Lines?” Sexual Aggression and Barroom Culture†  Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Volume 38Issue 5pages 1416–1424May 2014, Kathryn GrahamSharon BernardsD. Wayne OsgoodAntonia AbbeyMichael ParksAndrea FlynnTara Dumas and Samantha Wells3 MAR 2014. DOI: 10.1111/acer.12356. 

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

4 replies on “The Art of Rejection: Body Language Tricks for Anti-Dating”

  1. Alex

    I’m a guy and I’ve studied the signs from women.

    Women can’t read the signs either. Just this week I approached a women (I do this often), realized she has a boyfriend (who she was kissed in the middle of our chat) and then told her “nice talking with you, have a great day.”

    I turned around and pushed my cart away.

    Later, she reappraoches me and says “hey look, I know I have a boyfriend but we can hang out as friends. how about I grab your number?” Wow, she’s confident.

    Anyway, I said “I’m alright, thanks though” and proceeded to give her negative body language.
    She said “are you sure?” and i just told her I had a girlfriend. She walked away.

    This has happened to me before. I approach many women at the bar respectfully and I keep approaching until I find a girl I like.

    It seems like negative body language seems to make them want me more for some reason….

    1. Danielle McRae

      Hi Alex, very interesting perspective. Maybe this falls under the “playing hard to get” realm? We’ll definitely investigate this phenomenon further- not the first time we’ve heard this! -Danielle and the Science of People Team

  2. Thank you Thank you Thank you!! not only was that a fun little segment but now I know what I’m doing wrong…I’m very guilty of the voice inflection and I automatically nod my head when people are talking to me, out of habit because i usually want people to tell me more. I’ll be more conscious to shake it “no” when I’m trying to discourage them.

    1. Danielle McRae

      Thanks for your comment, Colleen. Glad to hear you learned something about yourself from it! -Danielle and the Science of People Team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Read More in Body Language