So, your roommate left dirty dishes in the sink again, or your friend was 15 minutes late meeting you for coffee. You’re annoyed but don’t want to come right out and say it. What do you do? Dropping subtle hints is a way to show you’re upset without an outright confrontation. You want them to get the message loud and clear while still maintaining plausible deniability.

It requires a bit of craft and cunning, but when done right, it can be an effective way to communicate your feelings without putting them directly into words. The key is choosing hints that point to your irritation without you having to actually voice it. If you want to drop hints to get your point across without saying it outright, here are a few techniques you can try:

Power Behind Nonverbal Communication

Communication is so much more than just the words we say. In fact, nonverbal communication—like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice—makes up a huge part of how we understand each other. Nonverbal cues are key to showing someone you’re upset without directly confronting them.

Nonverbal communication conveys emotion and emphasizes what we really mean. Things like crossed arms, a lack of eye contact, or a cold tone of voice can signal you’re angry or annoyed, even if you don’t say it outright. Pay attention to the vibe you’re putting out with your body and voice. Are you coming across as open and friendly, or closed off and irritated?

Sometimes the smallest gestures speak the loudest. A raised eyebrow, eye roll, or sigh can show your frustration. So can avoiding physical affection like hugs or kisses. If you’re normally an expressive, upbeat person, withdrawing and being less engaged also sends the message that something’s off.

Of course, nonverbal communication works both ways. Look for cues that the other person senses your dissatisfaction. Do they seem worried, upset, or eager to please? Are they giving you extra space or walking on eggshells? Their body language and behavior can confirm they got the hint without you having to say a word.

The power of nonverbal communication is that it allows us to convey how we really feel without having an awkward or confrontational conversation. But for the health of your relationships, it’s best to eventually come together, clarify any misunderstandings, and speak openly about what’s bothering you. While dropping hints might work in the short term, honest communication is the only way to truly resolve issues and find understanding.

Dropping Hints vs. Directly Expressing Upset

Dropping hints instead of directly expressing your upset can seem easier in the moment. But it often creates more problems down the road.

Why We Hint Rather Than Speak Up

Sometimes we’re afraid of confrontation or don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. Other times, we may feel it’s not “nice” or polite to be direct. However, hinting usually makes the situation worse. The other person remains oblivious, leaving you simmering in frustration and resentment.

Eventually, those negative emotions come out in unhealthy ways. It’s always better to have an open, honest, and compassionate conversation. But that’s easier said than done! Here are some tips to help build up your confidence:

  • Focus on facts, not accusations. Use “I” statements and give specific examples of the behavior that upsets you.
  • Keep calm and composed. Take some deep breaths to avoid getting emotional. React in a balanced and thoughtful manner.
  • Listen with an open mind. Give the other person a chance to respond and clarify. Look for compromise and solutions, not blame.
  • Suggest a solution or compromise. Rather than just complaining about the problem, propose a constructive solution or ask for their input.
  • Schedule the conversation in advance. Don’t ambush them in the heat of the moment. Take time to prepare what you want to say. They’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness.
  • You can’t control their reaction, only your delivery. Approach them with care, empathy, and honesty. That’s all you can do. Their reaction is up to them.

With practice, difficult conversations will get easier. And dropping fewer hints will lead to healthier relationships built on mutual understanding and respect. You’ve got this!

The Drawbacks of Only Hinting at Your Feelings

While hinting at your feelings may seem like an easy way to avoid direct confrontation, it often backfires and causes more problems than it solves.


Dropping subtle hints leaves too much room for misinterpretation and confusion. The other person may not pick up on your vague cues or read too much into an offhand comment. Before you know it, wires get crossed, and you’re both upset over a misunderstanding. It’s always better to be clear and straightforward when communicating how you feel.

Unmet Needs

Hinting at issues fails to convey the depth and importance of your feelings. The other person may make cursory efforts to address what they think is bothering you, but your underlying needs remain unmet. Hints don’t adequately express what you really need to feel heard and supported. Speaking openly and honestly is the only way to build mutual understanding.

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Built-Up Resentment

When you bottle up feelings and rely on hinting, resentment silently builds over time. Minor annoyances and slights accumulate into a mass of unresolved hurt and anger. Eventually, even the smallest thing can cause an explosion of pent-up emotions. It’s healthier for relationships to air grievances respectfully and work through them together as they arise.

Lack of resolution

Dropping hints may bring temporary relief by signaling you’re upset, but the issues fueling your feelings are left unresolved. The root causes of distress, annoyance, or hurt are not addressed, so your hints become a superficial bandage rather than a real solution. Speaking openly is the only path to gaining meaningful resolution and repairing relationships.

In summary, while hinting at your feelings seems easier in the moment, it often creates bigger problems down the line. There really is no substitute for honest, compassionate communication.

When is it appropriate to drop hints?

Dropping hints to show you’re upset can be an effective way to communicate your feelings without causing direct conflict. However, it needs to be done carefully and appropriately.

The best times to drop hints are:

  • When you want the other person to realize how their actions made you feel without calling them out directly. For example, if a friend said something insensitive, you could make a subtle comment like, It must be nice to not have a filter. They’ll likely get the message without you having to say, “What you said really hurt my feelings.”
  • In casual social situations. Dropping hints with friends, family, and acquaintances in relaxed settings allows them to pick up on your cues without feeling confronted. Save direct communication for more serious situations.
  • If the other person is receptive to hints. Some people are very perceptive and will quickly understand your veiled messages. Others need things spelled out for them. Know your audience.
  • When the issue is minor. Don’t drop hints about major relationship problems or workplace conflicts. These require open and honest communication to be resolved.

Dropping hints is not appropriate when:

  • There are ongoing or unresolved issues. Don’t expect hints to magically fix problems; direct communication is needed.
  • It’s a professional or formal situation. At work or in other official settings, be clear and straightforward. Hinting can damage important relationships or reflect poorly on you.
  • The other person has trouble with subtlety. If someone usually needs direct and obvious communication, hints are likely to sail right over their heads. You’ll need to speak clearly instead.

Dropping the occasional hint can be an effective way to express yourself, but it should not replace open communication, especially for serious issues. When used judiciously and appropriately, hinting allows you to express how you feel without confrontation, but the message still needs to be received. Choose your moments wisely and know when to speak up directly.

How to Tell Someone You’re Upset Without Saying It

Sometimes, you may feel upset with someone but don’t want to say it directly. Maybe you’re afraid of hurting their feelings, starting a conflict, or being misunderstood. However, keeping your emotions bottled up can also be unhealthy and damaging to your relationship. Here are some ways to tell someone you’re upset without saying it:

1. Subtly Convey Your Upset Through Body Language

Subtly Convey Your Upset Through Body Language
Subtly Convey Your Upset Through Body Language

When you’re upset with someone, it can be frustrating to confront them directly. However, there are subtle ways to hint that you’re upset without having to say it aloud. Your body language and tone can speak volumes.

1. Make eye contact, then look away.

Make eye contact with the person, then quickly look away. Breaking eye contact shows you’re uncomfortable and avoiding further interaction. Do this a few times to convey your displeasure in a non-verbal manner.

2. Cross your arms.

Folding your arms across your chest is a defensive posture that signals you’re closing yourself off. It highlights that you feel upset or distressed. Be careful not to come across as too aggressive, but crossing your arms for a few seconds while talking to them may get the message across.

3. Change your tone of voice.

Speaking in a curt, terse tone expresses your annoyance loud and clear. Answer questions abruptly or give short, one-word responses. Just be careful not to escalate the tension too much. A slightly clipped, impatient tone should suffice to hint that you’re upset without igniting an argument.

4. Turn away from them.

Physically turning your body away from the person you’re talking to shows a lack of interest or irritation. Point your shoulders and feet away from them, or turn your back to them for a second while doing another task. These motions signify their presence, and attempts to engage with you are unwelcome.

5. Sigh loudly.

An audible sigh, especially when the other person is talking, conveys frustration, impatience, or annoyance. Roll your eyes for extra effect. A loud, exaggerated sigh gets the point across that their behavior or conversation is taxing you. Repeat as needed until they get a clue that you’re upset.

Using these subtle hints, you can convey your displeasure to someone without an open confrontation. Be careful not to overdo it, or they may call you out for your passive-aggressive behavior. With practice, you’ll master the art of dropping hints that you’re upset without directly saying it.

2. Using tone and inflection to hint at displeasure

Using tone and inflection to hint at displeasure
Using tone and inflection to hint at displeasure.

When you’re upset with someone, it can be difficult to come right out and say it. However, there are subtle ways to hint at your displeasure without a direct confrontation. Using a pointed tone and strategic inflection in your voice and body language are effective methods for signaling you’re not entirely happy without uttering a cross-word.

1. Tone

The overall tone you use when speaking to the person can reveal your annoyance or irritation. Keep your responses short and abrupt. Don’t elaborate on questions or make an effort to continue the conversation. Give one-word answers like “fine” or “okay” in a flat, unenthusiastic tone. This conveys your mood without openly complaining.

2. Inflection

How you say something is just as important as what you say. Raise your voice at the end of sentences to make statements sound more like questions, indicating uncertainty or disbelief. For example, say, “You’re going out again tonight?” with your tone going up at the end. Pause for a few seconds after their response to highlight that you’re not satisfied with the answer. Sigh loudly or make other nonverbal noises to signal frustration.

An unfriendly vibe and aloof demeanor get the message across that you’re out of sorts. Once the other person clues in that you’re upset based on your offbeat behavior and reactions, the ball is in their court to either address it directly by asking what’s wrong or give you space until you’re ready to discuss the issue. Using tone and inflection allows you to drop hints about your feelings without an open confrontation until you’ve both cooled off and can have a more productive conversation.

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3. Dropping contextual clues in conversation

Dropping contextual clues in conversation
Dropping contextual clues in conversation

Dropping subtle hints in conversation is an art form. When you’re upset with someone but not quite ready for a direct confrontation, contextual clues can speak volumes.

1. Body language

Your body language accounts for over half of your communication. When talking to the person you’re upset with, avoid eye contact, cross your arms, sigh loudly, or roll your eyes. These nonverbal signals demonstrate your annoyance in a passive yet pointed way.

2. Tone of voice

How you say something is just as important as what you say. Speaking in a curt, irritated tone or pausing before responding to them shows you have some frustration brewing beneath the surface. Short, one-word answers also convey annoyance and a desire to end the conversation as quickly as possible.

3. Word choice

The specific words and phrases you use can reflect your emotional state. Responding with “whatever,” “not really,” or “I guess” indicates indifference or irritation. Compare that to more positive responses like “absolutely” or “that’s great! When asked open-ended questions, give vague, noncommittal answers lacking in details to hint at your upset feelings.

Dropping hints through context allows you to indirectly communicate your anger or annoyance without an outright confrontation. While less direct, these clues still get your message across loud and clear if the other person is perceptive enough to pick them up. When you’re finally ready to address issues directly, these hints have already laid the groundwork to pave the way for a productive discussion. They’ve been put on notice and will likely be more open to listening and understanding your perspective.

4. Passive-Aggressive Ways to Hint at Your Annoyance

Passive-Aggressive Ways to Hint at Your Annoyance
Passive-Aggressive Ways to Hint at Your Annoyance

When you’re annoyed with someone, it can be tempting to drop hints about your irritation rather than address it directly. However, passive-aggressive behavior is unproductive and damaging to relationships. It’s always better to have an open, honest, and compassionate conversation.

1. Make excuses to avoid them.

Saying you’re “too busy” or “have other plans” when they want to meet up. While creating space can be helpful, repeatedly avoiding it will only increase tension and hurt feelings in the long run.

2. Give backhanded compliments.

For example, saying something like, “That shirt is so brave.” or “Wow, you actually did something right for once! Backhanded compliments are thinly veiled criticisms and insults. They create confusion and chip away at self-esteem.

3. Make snide or sarcastic comments.

Using a harsh or mocking tone to indirectly express your annoyance or frustration For example, “Nice of you to finally show up!” or “Looks like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning! Sarcasm and snide comments are hurtful, disrespectful, and damage trust and goodwill.

4. Slam doors or stomp around.

Engaging in noisy or exaggerated movements to signal you’re upset in an immature way. These behaviors are destructive and will likely only incite more anger and conflict.

5. Withhold affection or intimacy.

Refusing to make eye contact, hug, kiss, or hold hands. Withholding physical affection and intimacy is a way to indirectly punish someone and will seriously damage your connection over time.

The healthiest approach is to find a calm, caring moment to have an open conversation about your feelings. Speaking from the heart with compassion and honesty is the best way to build trust and resolve relationship issues. While it can be difficult, communicating directly and respectfully is always better than dropping hints or engaging in passive-aggressive behavior.

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5. Being constructive when expressing discontent indirectly

Being constructive when expressing discontent indirectly
Being constructive when expressing discontent indirectly

When you’re upset with someone, it can be hard to communicate your feelings directly. Dropping subtle hints is a way to express your discontent without an outright confrontation. However, it’s important to do so constructively.

1. Focus on specific actions, not personal attacks.

Rather than making broad accusations, point out concrete actions that bothered you. Say “It hurt my feelings when you didn’t call me back yesterday” rather than “You’re so inconsiderate. Discuss how their behavior makes you feel without labeling or insulting them.

2. Provide context and empathy

Explain how their actions impacted you while also expressing understanding for their perspective. For example, “I felt disappointed when you canceled our plans again. I know work has been really busy for you lately, but I was looking forward to spending time together. This approach prevents the other person from feeling attacked while still conveying your feelings.

3. Suggest compromises and solutions

In addition to voicing what’s wrong, propose constructive ways to remedy the situation. For instance, “I’ve noticed we haven’t been able to connect recently. Would you be open to putting a recurring date night on the calendar so we have dedicated time together each week? Compromise and cooperation are more likely to lead to a productive outcome.

4. Watch your tone and body language.

How you say something is just as important as what you say. Maintain a calm, caring tone of voice and relaxed body language. Crossing your arms, glaring, or speaking in an aggressive manner will likely make the other person feel defensive and damage communication. Your goal should be to have a thoughtful, compassionate dialog.

Dropping hints in a caring, solution-focused way allows you to stand up for yourself without damaging your relationship. While it may feel easier in the moment to make hurtful accusations or give someone the silent treatment, taking the high road will lead to much better long-term results. Focusing on shared understanding and compromise is the key to voicing your feelings constructively.

6. Moving Forward: Direct Communication for Resolution

Moving Forward Direct Communication for Resolution
Moving Forward Direct Communication for Resolution

Once you’ve dropped some hints that you’re upset, the next step is to have an open and honest conversation to clear the air. Be willing to listen with an open mind as well. Effective communication is a two-way street.

1. Schedule a time to talk.

Ask the other person if you can find a time to chat, either in person or over the phone. Let them know you have some things you want to discuss to improve your relationship. Finding a time when you’re both able to give the conversation your full attention will make the discussion more productive.

2. Use “I” statements

When explaining why you felt hurt or upset, frame your statements around “I” instead of “you”. Saying “I felt frustrated when plans were changed at the last minute” is less accusing than saying “You always change plans on me at the last second”. Focus on how their actions made you feel rather than attacking their character.

3. Discuss the specific situation.

Give a concrete example of what happened that upset you. Explain how it made you feel using “I” statements, then give them a chance to respond. Try to understand their perspective with an open mind as well. Look for opportunities to find common ground and compromise.

4. Express Your Needs

Let the other person know what they can do differently in the future to avoid upsetting or frustrating you. For example, you might say “In the future, I need more advance notice if plans are going to change”. Be open to listening to their needs as well, and find solutions you’re both happy with.

5. Forgive and move forward.

Once you’ve had an open and honest conversation, make the choice to forgive. Holding onto anger and resentment will only damage your relationship further. While the situation may not be fully resolved, committing to improving communication and understanding going forward can help strengthen your connection. Make the choice to move on from past upsets in a constructive way.


So there you have it—some subtle ways to show you’re upset without outright saying it. The key is dropping hints through your actions and body language rather than your words. People aren’t mind readers, so you have to give them signals that something’s off. If they care about you, they’ll likely pick up on these hints and check in to see what’s going on.

And if they don’t seem to notice or change their behavior even after trying some of these techniques, that may be a sign the relationship isn’t as strong or healthy as you thought. But at least you gave them a chance before walking away for good. Remember, communication is key, even when you’re not directly communicating.


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