4 awful social mistakes you need to stop making

It’s often the small things that matter most in life. Sometimes what you do on a whim, without much thought, has the most significant impact on others. It determines the experience you give them and also reflects on your character and personality and moral standing.

Most people want to be the best versions of themselves. My guess is, you too, want the same. But to build your character, you need to know the areas that need improvement.

Which is why today, we’re going deep. We’re pinpointing the nitty-gritty of social mistakes you’re making and whose adverse effects you may be completed unaware of. Let’s dive in.

“Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.”
― Henry Clay

1. Not taking off your shoes when you visit someone.

Having lived in three different countries so far, I’ve experienced firsthand the difference in culture when it comes to taking off shoes before entering someone’s house. While some people have no qualms about it, others find it really impolite. But cultural differences aside, let’s use research now, shall we?

In a study conducted by professors from the University of Arizona, a research specialist Jonathan Sexton, wore a new pair of shoes for two weeks to determine what really happens when we wear our shoes inside. Here’s what they found at the end of the duration; a whopping 440,000 units of bacteria attached to the shoes’ sole. Imagine that.

In fact, they took their study a bit further using shoes from randomly selected individuals, which revealed nine different bacteria and virus strains. The shocking revelation of all? The conclusion that viruses thrive better under your shoes’ sole than in the toilet.

Now envision that vast army of germs and bacteria expanding their territory on someone’s floors. Next time you visit someone, take off your shoes because that’s what hygienic, responsible, and caring people do. Isn’t that who you are?

2. Not stashing away your phone when you’re with someone.

Let’s say you have a dinner date with a friend, virtual or otherwise — and your phone is constantly buzzing, notifications always popping up. You’ll definitely be distracted when your attention is divided. When you’ve got a dozen little things nipping at your mind, maintaining focus and being fully present is out of the question.

On average, Americans touch their phones more than 2600 times per day. RescueTime reports that people generally spend an average of 2 hours and 42 minutes per day on their phones. These extremely powerful and seductive devices can influence your relationships in a big way.

Researchers from the International Association for Relationship proved that the mere presence of a cell phone might get in the way of building connections and relationships with others, especially when having deeper and more critical discussions. It can make you and the other person feel less close, hence lowering the quality of your relationship.

To avoid this, stash away your phone unless there’s a critical issue. Show your loved ones you respect their time by giving them your undivided attention, focus, and the sincere presence they deserve. It may not seem that significant, but small acts like this have the potential to make a huge difference. People feel valued and appreciated when you do this.

3. Not respecting another person’s personal space.

I’m guilty of this. Because I’m a pretty touchy person, I like hugging, high-fiving, and placing my hand on somebody’s shoulder. It’s how I express affection. So you can imagine what a rude shock it was for me to learn that not everybody fancies this.

About two years ago, I made friends with a lady. Whenever we’d meet, I would enthusiastically wrap my long arms around her. However, after a while, it dawned on me that she never initiated a hug. That’s when the penny finally dropped; she wasn’t a hugger. In fact, all this time, I’d been violating her personal space. *Hangs my head in shame.*

As humans, we’re profoundly self-absorbed, we never stop to think that what we love doing could be totally stomach-turning to another person. And unfortunately, some people are too shy to express themselves, so if you’re not aware of the effects of your deeds, you’ll end up stepping on their toes over and over again. To avoid this, figure out which physical expressions sit well with your friends.

Do they enjoy hugs? Or is a simple handshake more than enough? Are they snugglers? Or do they get ants in their pants when you sit too close? Knowing this helps you steer clear from the awkwardness that comes from violating their personal space. Make them feel respected and at ease in your presence, your relationships will get deeper, and your overall experience delightful.

4. Not being courteous in a public restroom.

It takes me about 14-hours to fly from Melbourne to Kenya, my motherland. This means passengers make frequent trips to the lavatory to brush their teeth and freshen up. However, it’s nauseating to see the deplorable state at which some passengers leave the lavatory after use.

It’s nausea-inducing to think of the sneaky germs that skulk around public bathrooms. In a microbial study of public restroom study, researchers reported that:

The prevalence of skin bacteria on restroom surfaces is not surprising as most of the surfaces sampled come into direct contact with human skin, and previous studies have shown that skin-associated bacteria are generally resilient and can survive on surfaces for extended periods of time. Many other human-associated taxa, including several lineages associated with the gut, mouth, and urine, were observed on all surfaces.

Basically, the fastest way bacteria spreads in public restrooms is through the surfaces you touch as well as your bodily fluids. In fact, even a simple act such as brushing your teeth can dramatically increase the spread of bacteria. What this means for you and me is that if we want to minimize health risks, we’ve got to practice good sanitation.

I get it. It’s impossible to get rid of bacteria in public restrooms, but it shouldn’t stop you from playing your part. Since you’d like to have a good experience, you should extend the same to the person who comes after you. After you’ve completed your business, clean up after yourself. Being mindful of how the state in which you leave the restroom shows you’re thoughtful and respectful of others.

“I wish everyone had someone who never popped their balloons.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich

From today, decide to be more intentional about the consequences of your manners. Stop and think for a moment about how your behavior is affecting the next person. What energy are you spreading? If today you woke up as the best version of yourself, how would you be? How would you make others feel?

When you find the answers to these questions, use them as a guide to raise your standards, be more considerate and empathetic. Imagine if we all did the same, wouldn’t the world be a much better place to live?

This article first appeared on Medium.