We all want to make a great first impression. And we all know some simple tricks to be more likable: make eye contact, smile, ask questions about the other person, listen more than you speak. When you do these things, you’ll go into that first meeting believing that other people are going to like you.
Research shows people who expect to be accepted are actually perceived as more likable. (How’s that for a self-fulfilling prophecy?)
So you know what to do, but how will you know that the people you meet — whether socially or professionally — perceive you as friendly and likable?
Granted, you could go by what other people say, but we’re all pretty good at verbally masking our feelings, if only to be polite. A better approach is to see what people do, picking up on their nonverbal cues and gestures
According to new research — well, not new research, but a meta-analysis of over 50 different studies that “investigated the relation between self-reported interpersonal attraction and enacted behavior” — these five nonverbal signs indicate whether you’ve established rapport:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Initiating new conversational topics
- Maintaining physical proximity
- Mimicking (unconsciously) your nonverbal expressions
Most of the above make sense. Smiling, laughing, making eye contact, extending the conversation past its opening stages, not edging away — yep.
The one thing about mimicking might sound strange, but research shows that subconsciously (or even intentionally, more on that in a second) imitating other people’s nonverbal expressions means we at least partly understand the emotions they are experiencing. Since we all express our emotions nonverbally, copying those expressions affects our own emotions due to an “afferent feedback mechanism.”
In short, mimicking my expressions indicates you better understand how I feel. And if you want to intentionally use the power of body language to your benefit, consciously mimicking facial expressions will make the other person feel the interaction was more positive.
Keep in mind the findings don’t relate only to whether another person “likes” you. As one of the researchers says:
Whether we engage in these behaviors has little or nothing to do with romantic desires. These behaviors apply when doctors interact with their patients, parents interact with their kids, or when salespeople talk to their customers.
When we like someone, we act in ways to get them to trust us. From this perspective, we engage in these behaviors to increase the degree of overlap, interdependence, and commitment to an agreement.
This pretty well describes the goal of just about any kind of relationship — or even any kind of interaction.
So what should you do?
First, control what you can control. When you meet someone, make sure you’re sending the right signals. Sure, your body language is a fundamental part of who you are. Chances are you don’t even think about how you stand, sit, and move. You should, of course, because other people instinctively pick up the nonverbal signals you send.
And so do you — you also pick up on your own nonverbal signals. Gestures and postures make a dramatic impact on how you think, feel, and perform.
And then pay close attention to the signals you receive from others. See how people respond, and then make changes to how you approach those first few moments when you meet someone new.
And if you’re unsure how, think about it this way: We all like people who like us. If you show me you’re genuinely happy to meet me, I’ll instantly start to like you. And I will smile, make eye contact, laugh, and extend the conversation, all of which will help you relax and be yourself.
And then we both win.