What do Queen Elizabeth, Bill Clinton, & Madonna all have in common? Look past the fame & fortune and what do you see? Three incredibly charismatic people. You’ve probably never met any of them but you already like them. Why? Because they are masters at conveying approachable & positive body language.
If you had to choose between talking to someone with their arms folded, head down, & scowling or someone smiling, looking you in the eye, & using open gestures who would you pick? Most people would choose the latter. Your body starts talking long before you ever say a word in a conversation. Unfortunately, many seem to have either forgotten this completely, or simply don’t know how to speak the language.
Whether you’re looking to ace a job interview, pick up a date in a bar, or just build rapport and make others feel more comfortable in your presence you need to start working on your non-verbal communication skills. If you’re able to read other’s body language, and convey confidence through yours, you’ll be leagues ahead when it comes to building rapport & trust with people you meet.
Below are 5 tips to mastering positive body language when meeting someone for the first time:
1) It all starts with a handshake
You’ve possibly shaken hands with thousands of people during your lifetime but have you ever asked why this specific action is the start of a communication? The origin of the handshake can be traced back to the times of the Egyptians. Using the right hand, where one would normally hold a weapon, to break personal space barriers is a sign of trust that has evolved very little over the last 4,000 years.
The basics are simple, reach forward, fingers together thumb pointing up and grasp hands. Keep a strong wrist and shake from the elbow. When paired with a friendly greeting and use of the other person’s name you’ve started on the right foot.
Avoid the common mishaps such as the “knuckle buster” (squeezing too hard), “dead fish” (barely touching hands), & “the dominant” (shifting their hand so your palm faces down). Although often ignored, a proper handshake can do more for building a genuine connection than a fancy suit or luxury watch.
2) Eye contact is key
Many studies have shown that making eye contact during a first impression displays confidence, makes you more personable, trustworthy, & sincere, as well as more attractive and likable. Eye contact improves the quality of any interaction and imparts a sense of intimacy and connectedness to the receiver.
Our eyes reveal our thoughts and feelings. You’ve heard the expression, “the eyes are the windows to your soul” and although not literal, your eyes tell the truth better than your words. We begin making eye contact to understand our parent’s emotions and feelings before we’re even a year old.
One of the biggest missteps when building rapport is avoiding eye contact. If you refrain from eye contact during a first impression you can be seen as untruthful, inattentive, & insecure as well as a lot of other “un-/in-” words you don’t want to be associated with.
Have you ever sat in a coffee shop and watched a conversation from across the room? You can tell when the two are perfectly in sync. One person crosses their legs, and then the other does the same. One leans forward and the other follows suit. When people are comfortable around each other they involuntarily mirror the movements of whoever they are speaking with.
To speed up the rapport building take advantage of this non-verbal idiosyncrasy during your next conversation. Don’t go overboard and mimic their every motion, be subtle and mimic movements that involve nodding, leaning forward or backward, and crossing/uncrossing arms and legs.
To “check” your progress after a few minutes of mirroring, cross your legs or take a drink and watch if they take your lead. If they’ve mirrored you, then you know you’re on your way toward building rapport and get back to focusing on the quality conversation you should be having.
You can also mirror your cadence of speech and talk faster or slower. Imagine a slow-drawling Texan chatting with a fast-talking New Yorker. When they reach a level of comfortability during their conversation their speaking speed will converge in a middle ground where both parties can speak contentedly.
4) Don’t forget to Smile
The simplest way to start building a positive relationship is to smile. Not a phony smile, but a real genuine smile that engages the eyes, cheeks, & mouth. Universally accepted & extraordinarily contagious, a smile shows you are welcoming and open to discussion.
A real smile not only moves your mouth into the classic smile shape, but lights up your entire face. A true smile squeezes the eyes through the lifting of the cheek muscles and creates wrinkles or crow’s feet in the corners.
Faking a smile gives the wrong impression and has been found to be more noticeable then a neutral face. When looking to build rapport, don’t underestimate the power of a smile. Even if you speaking over the phone, smile as you speak, it can be heard in your voice as well.
Superstar tip – Forget saying “cheese” when you smile and use a word that ends in “ah” like yoga or cola. It will move your face to a more natural smiling position.
5) Personal space
Everyone has a level of personal space they keep to feel comfortable. The “American Bubble” is larger than those in Latin American countries but not as large as those from Germany. When we allow someone into that space it indicates a certain level of trust.
One of the quickest ways to build rapport is to move past the personal space bubble of your conversation partner. Now don’t go getting touchy-feely with strangers on the subway or getting so close they can tell what you had for lunch. Simply start with a handshake.
If you’re already mirroring each other’s movements use physical touch to show camaraderie. As your conversation progresses, test your level of rapport with a gentle touch on the elbow or shoulder. Don’t rush physical contact. Too much contact can make you come across as needy or desperate.
Be ready for instant feedback and adjust accordingly. If they smile, lean in, or give eye contact after your physical contact, great! If they shy away it simply means they were not ready for you to enter their space. Back up, go back to mirroring/smiling and reset.
Use your body language as a tool. Become aware of what you are saying non-verbally and ensure that it matches what you’re conveying with your words. Take notice of what other’s bodies are saying to better comprehend their feelings and emotions.
Creating instant rapport can be done. With just a bit of practice and effort you can avoid the automatic back and forth of a conversation and stand out in a good way. You’ll have an easier time building a network, making more friends, & creating trust with your colleagues.
Start today, right now, by noticing what your body language is portraying at this moment. Is it reflecting the best version of you? Is it what you want others to see? Fixing body language isn’t rocket science, it’s simply taking notice and adjusting accordingly.
Life's Secret Sauce, founded by Brandon Slater & Samantha Field, teaches young motivated professionals the necessary social skills to master first impressions, build meaningful relationships, & create quality conversations with anyone. As public speakers in the Cruise industry, they have learned how to make instant connections and make small talk about everything from global issues to pistol shrimp.
Currently they live in Miami with their Shiba Inu, Azumi, and enjoy hiking in Alaska throughout the summer months. To learn how to use effective communication to unlock your dream lifestyle click here!