in: People, Social Skills

• Last updated: September 26, 2021

Social Briefing #6: How to Make Yourself More Approachable

Officer social briefing his soldiers.

Social Briefings are short bi-monthly dispatches that offer practical tips to improve your social skills. Read more on their raison d’etre. 

In the last Social Briefing, we talked about how to approach other people when you’re at an event where you don’t know any of the other guests.

Taking the initiative in such situations bolsters your confidence and sets you up for social success: people like people who seem actively interested in them and appreciate when others make the first move.

But, of course, you appreciate when others make the first move too! It’s always nice when someone else takes the initiative, rather than having to make that effort yourself. Especially if you’re a little shy.

Fortunately, the chances of someone doing so aren’t entirely random; you can intentionally do things that require minimal effort and make it significantly more likely that people will come up to you on their own volition.

Utilizing the following tips not only makes it easier for folks to approach you, but should you end up deciding to take the initiative after all, they also enhance the first impression you make as you strike up an interaction.

How to Become More Approachable

Think about this for a moment: how do you decide who to talk to when you don’t know anyone else at a party (or who to ask for directions or to take a picture out in public)? You probably look for someone who seems friendly, open, and warm. Your brain scans for potential threats, and chooses someone who seems safe and welcoming.

So to figure out how to become more approachable, you essentially just need to think about how you choose who to talk to, and then reverse engineer those factors, so that you embody them yourself. Of course, a lot of that decision-making process happens on a subconscious level, so let’s spell out the behaviors that contribute to an aura of approachability:

Adopt open body language. As we explained in this guide to making a good first impression with your body language, your posture, facial expressions, and behaviors can either read as “closed” or “open.” Open body language is achieved by, well, opening the parts of your body that are considered more “intimate” — parts that in times past were vulnerable to attack, or which most easily reveal your intentions. Exposing these areas of your body show that you’re accessible, welcoming, and have nothing to hide.

  • Uncover your heart. Don’t stand with your arms crossed over your chest, which reads as a defensive stance. Don’t hold your beverage up to your chest either. Instead, hang your arms naturally by your sides.
  • Show your palms. To the primal brain, closed fists could contain a weapon. So keep your mitts open and out of your pockets, and with your palms facing slightly outward.
  • Bare your throat. When you’re wearing a button-up shirt and tie, which covers your neck twice over, you convey a closed-off, protected authority, which can be helpful in the competitive world of business, but reads as less warm and welcoming in social situations. So in your off hours, remove your tie, and unbutton your shirt a little. Or wear a v-neck tee, which not only reveals your neck, but offers a little more access to your heart as well.

Make eye contact. Don’t stare at your feet or at your phone, and don’t wear sunglasses unless you really need them. Instead, look around with an open gaze, and don’t be afraid to make warm, friendly eye contact with other people. Eye contact very often serves as an invitation for someone to approach.

Smile. A warm, friendly smile puts others at ease and makes them (and you) feel appealing. When you’re walking around, display a slight, soft smile. After you make eye contact with someone, give them a bigger, genuine smile.

Stand by yourself. If you’re having trouble approaching people and are hoping someone will approach you, this probably won’t be very difficult! But your nerves could actually work to your advantage; as we discussed last time, it’s easier to approach a small group of people than a large one, and it’s easiest of all to approach someone who’s alone.

Make room for others. Just because you’re already talking in a circle of people, doesn’t mean you still don’t hope other people might approach you. Maybe the conversation in the current group is boring, and you’re praying someone else will join the mix. To make it more likely that others will approach the group, rather than standing close to those in the circle and leaning in to the center, open your posture by slightly angling your body out, and put space between you and the folks next to you, so there’s room for someone else to join.

Be well-groomed and well-dressed. To the visceral brain, someone who is disheveled or has poor hygiene reads as a potential threat – not only in the immediate context of their being a shifty character or having a mental disease, but in pointing to behavioral/personality traits that point to their being a social burden rather than a social benefit in the long-term. Fair or not, these mental evaluations happen subconsciously and within milliseconds.

So always show up looking your best; not overdressed — that will drive some folks away and make you seem uptight — but with your body well-groomed and your clothes clean and stylish. Looking good shows status, a highly attractive trait (remember that status isn’t just about money but all the traits that bring value to others: discipline, self and social awareness, creativity, stability, etc.).

Wear a conversation piece. Other people have as much trouble knowing how to strike up a conversation as you do. Make it easier for them by wearing something interesting they can comfortably comment on. An arrestingly handsome tie (not a novelty tie), an interesting tie tack, a lapel pin, a unique (but tasteful) ring, watch, or necklace, or a printed t-shirt (“You’re a fan of X sports team/band/website?”) worn in a casual setting, can all readily inspire curious questions that spark a conversation. Hats, eyeglasses, tattoos, and yes, canine companions work well here too.

Facial hair is also a guaranteed conversation starter. At a concert recently, a man standing next to me simply turned and said, “I feel like someone needs to talk about the elephant in the room here…that’s the best mustache I’ve ever seen.” He then asked me if I was a cop, I joked that even if I was, I couldn’t reveal that information, and we had a friendly chat.

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