You send people signals all day, without paying attention to them. The way you move your eyes, the way you shake a hand and so on. There are things you can do to send subconscious signals using body language that make people like you better, or at least give you the benefit of the doubt. Whenever I discuss techniques like these there are always one or two people who feel uncomfortable with ‘influencing’ someone with psychological tricks.
Manipulation is not negative
- Influencing is changing someone’s behaviour or mind
- Manipulation is intentionally influencing
When you hear the word manipulation, you may immediately think of negative things. Please don’t.
Manipulation is not bad. People with bad intentions are bad.
Example 1: Manipulative sneaky person
Bad people are bad. Bad people who manipulate are problematic. An example of this:
- Mean Girl wants to reduce the social standing of Sweet Classmate
- She tells the other classmate this person did something horrible
- The class likes Sweet Classmate less
- Sweet Classmate feels sad now
Example 2: Friendly manipulation
Manipulation can make everyone in a situation better off.
- Party Person is an experienced manipulator
- Party Person bumps into another person
- Party Person smiles disarmingly and apologizes, even though the other person was wrong
- Party Person doesn’t get into a fight and has a great night
The problem with the Mean Girl example is not the manipulation, the problem is bad intentions and lying.
My request: Have good intention
I’m assuming you will use these tricks with good intentions. Please do so.
Section 1: Attitude & body language
The human mind is judgmental, it’s what it does. It is what kept us alive during evolution. We make judgments in split seconds:
- Is this person a threat?
- Is this person attractive?
- Is this person useful to my (social) survival?
Pay attention to this instinct, but never act on it without knowing the person better. The tricks below will trigger you to behave in ways that are perceived well.
This section is not strictly about body language, but these attitudes will subconsciously influence your body language.
Feel secure and project confidence
This one is so important it requires its own article, and you can never do this 100% of the time. Plus, there are certainly cases where not seeming confident can gain you likability points, but on average, the above holds true.
There are two things to consider with this point:
- Try to remove things that make you uncomfortable
- For me bad skin was an issue, which I solved like this
- Another was clothing choice, which I solved by bringing along a girl when shopping
- Train yourself to help you feel secure
- I learned a lot from self-help audiobooks I downloaded
- For me staying in shape helped a lot. Read the 4 Hour Body or its summary
Everyone is a friend, unless proven otherwise
Why burn bridges before you’ve made them in the first place? It makes no sense:
- You have everything to gain
- You have nothing to lose
You will notice soon enough if this person would/wants to be a good friend.
Everyone deserves respect, unless proven otherwise
Again, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by treating people with respect. That doesn’t mean you should kiss boots all day; it means you shouldn’t dismiss anyone or make them feel unimportant.
Like everybody, until they don’t deserve it
Strangers deserve to have the benefit of the doubt. In our world anyone can be anything, without looking like it. I’ve met douchebags who looked kind and billionaires that behaved like excited children. Look at the cover of the book, but read a few pages before judging.
Neither the douchebag or billionaire are ‘better’ than each other. But being around one made me feel unhappy, and the other made me feel gusto and enthusiasm.
Always think about what you can do for others
When you meet someone, don’t think ‘what can they do for me?’ but rather ‘what can I do for them?’ Helping people is the best way to make them want to help you, and everybody wins.
Note that I’m not saying you should give unsolicited advice to make yourself seem smart. Help people if you genuinely and truly believe this person’s life would be better with the knowledge/help/contact that you can offer.
Offer help, but don’t insist. Keep it short and let them decide.
Section 2: Posture
Your body is constantly signalling the people you meet. Posture influences the snap second judgement people make about you, but also what you think about yourself. In addition, proper posture is good for your back, what’s not to like?
Stand up straight, but relaxed
To find positive posture, try the following:
- Stand with your feet as wide as your hips
- Make yourself as tall as possible, imagine being pulled up by the top of your head
- Now keep that feeling of being tall but relax your shoulders
- Relax your neck and angle your head so you don’t have to look up or down to look an average person in the eyes
- Relax as much as possible while maintaining your posture
- Don’t puff your chest, it should be flat as if you are lying on a floor
- Pull your shoulders back very slightly
Sit up straight, but not rigid
When you start sitting up straight, you will notice how small most people make themselves. You will instantly feel quite tall when sitting at a table. Keep your back straight, but relax as much as possible.
Always have some tension in your core
Your abs, back and general core should never be flaccid/floppy when you stand or sit. Keep your abs and core in general under some tension. Not only does it reflect well upon your posture, but it also makes it easier to move with grace.
Position your feet at about hip width apart
The stance of your feet says a lot about you. It’s not an exact science, but putting your feet closer together generally signifies insecurity, whereas a wider stance indicates confidence.
Both holding your feet too close together and too far apart can reflect badly upon you. Try to aim for a position where your feet are at hip width or slightly wider apart, but not much.
Section 3: Entering a Room
The moment you enter a room is the moment you expose yourself to the judgement of the people in that room. Make sure to make use of that.
Some would recommend more extreme techniques like peacocking, but that doesn’t apply to all situations.
Smile like you are happy to be there
Regardless of whether you are, smile when you enter a room. Smile like you really like what you are seeing. Don’t overdo it, don’t laugh out loud. Smile like you stepped outside and noticed the sun was shining.
Greet the crowd
Not explicitly. Don’t shout “HEY!” or draw explicit attention unless these are people who appreciate such behaviour. Otherwise take a moment to stand still or walk slowly while looking at the people in the room.
- Make eye contact
Don’t glance over the crowd like it’s an object. Look people in the eye and if anyone holds your gaze smile at them. Make people feel like a positive influence just entered this room.
- Take your time
This shows confidence, but also signifies an open attitude.
Wave to (imaginary) friends
Humans are hard-wired to like and/or respect people with friends. When you walk into a room and do your usual ‘greet the crowd’ routine, follow it up by waving to your friends and mouthing something along the lines of “I’ll be right there”.
Here’s the thing, feel free to do this to imaginary friends. I do this all the time at bigger events. Keep in mind that people don’t see 360 degrees. If you wave to an non-existent person behind them they don’t know you are just waving to empty air.
This has a number of effects:
- People assume you know people
- You have more time to calmly look around
- You will feel more confident
The trick here is to do this in full confidence, don’t timidly wave. Wave like your best friend is across the room and you are trying to communicate to them that you’ll be there soon.
Section 4: the Handshake
Use a firm but gentle handshake
Men, especially, are sensitive to the way you shake a hand. A weak or ‘dead fish1’ handshake will instantly lose you likability points.
- Don’t just ‘offer’ your hand, a handshake is teamwork
- Use the pressure you would use to grab the stick of a heavy pan
- If a person is offering you a ‘dead fish’ handshake, don’t squeeze too hard
Make eye contact as you shake hands
Looking away automatically signifies negative things:
- You don’t have attention/respect for the other person
- You have something to hide
Look into someone’s eyes long enough to memorize their eye colour. Don’t stare, just observe for a moment.
Smile like they made your day
When looking into someone’s eyes during the shake, smile as if you saw something in their eyes that makes you happy.
Don’t laugh out loud, just smile.
Section 5: Positioning
How and where you position yourself makes a difference in how you are perceived. Positioning combined with posture is very powerful.
Open your stance
When you are talking to someone, position your body in such a way that you are open to them. Preferably position yourself in a ‘vulnerable’ way. Don’t cover your chest with your arms, don’t slouch etc. This signifies trust and comfort.
Angle yourself towards the person you are speaking to
It is a subtle change, but making sure that your body is ‘pointing’ to your conversational partner makes a difference. Angling away can signify fearfulness, insecurity and mistrust.
Don’t lean on or against objects
Leaning on/against an object (e.g. a wall) signifies passivity and possibly insecurity. Whenever you can stand up with good posture. Using the tips from the posture section, try to develop a comfortable ‘neutral stance’.
When you do lean, use posture
If you do have to lean against something for whatever reason, keep good posture. Don’t slouch.
Section 6: Your Face
Your face is an area with a lot of signalling. In fact there is a lot of research into micro expressions people make subconsciously. People project a lot of information without knowing it. You can use your face to signal information about yourself to people.
Make your neutral face a happy face
Ever heard of ‘resting bitch face syndrome2’? Some people claim their face at rest looks annoyed/angry, which makes people perceive them as a social danger. You preferably wouldn’t talk to a person with that kind of an expression on their face.
It says nothing about the actual person though. But it does disadvantage them.
Make sure that your face at rest (e.g. when you are working on a laptop) looks relaxed, if not happy. An easy trick is to have a look on your face like something is mildly amusing to you.
Don’t break eye contact instantly
People have a habit of looking away if they meet a person’s eyes. Try not do do this. Keep eye contact, and smile. Often people will look away, though some people will hold your gaze.
Doing this has multiple effects:
- People perceive you as more open
- You will feel more confident
Please note that when you hold someone’s gaze, be sure to smile. Looking impassively can be very creepy…
How to smile
There is a very simple trick to smiling: imagine you are seeing something you really like.
Smiling is not about moving your face in a certain way, it is about feeling a happy feeling and letting your face express it.
Read more about how to smile in this Buffer article..
Section 7: Techniques and habits
Here I cover some things you can do that often involve some measure of interaction with your conversational/communication data.
Mirror your posture
A powerful technique that has been researched a lot is mirroring. This means people feel more comfortable around you and like you better if you stand the way they do. For example:
- They have their arms crossed? Cross your arms
- They are leaning on their right leg? Lean on your right leg
- Are they holding a drink? Hold a drink
The key here is not to be obvious. The moment they notice consciously what you are doing, the technique loses power.
As with the above point, you shouldn’t be obvious. But little things can go a long way:
- You are having a coffee, they pick up their cup to drink? Do the same
- If they smile, smile back (that’s an easy one)
- Are they stepping a bit closer to you? Do the same
Again, don’t be obvious and don’t be a creep. This technique should be used in an unobtrusive manner, but frequently.
- Of all the types of handshakes, the ‘dead fish’ is the most infamous one. The hand has no energy, there is no shake, no squeeze, not even a pinch, and it gives the feeling you are holding a dead fish instead of a hand. This handshake is synonym to low self-esteem ↩︎
- also known as RBF, or bitchy resting face (BRF), is a facial expression that unintentionally appears as if a person is angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous, particularly when the individual is relaxed, resting or not expressing any particular emotion ↩︎