To be approachable means, quite literally, that people are comfortable enough to approach you. Whether you are seeking to make new friends or attempting to understand why people don’t talk to you, becoming more approachable is a quick, easy way to improve your social life.
Think about the types of people that you go out of your way to avoid. What is it about them that discourages you from including them in your social circle? Is it their unwillingness to speak, their standoffish attitude, or are they just plain unfriendly? If you feel that you’re unapproachable, it could be that you are exhibiting one or more of these same qualities without even realizing it.
The following 3 steps are key to being perceived as approachable by strangers and acquaintances alike.
1. Make Approachable Eye Contact
When approaching someone, people typically try to make eye contact with their target in an effort to signal their approach and gauge the person’s attitude towards them. When someone is unable to make eye contact with you, they perceive you as being unavailable— whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. If it seems that you’re intentionally avoiding eye contact with them, it will be taken as a sign that you don’t want them to approach.
For many people who are shy, introverted, or feel awkward in social situations, we have a tendency to keep our heads lowered and avoid eye contact because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. For a long time, I would quickly avert my eyes any time I noticed someone making eye contact with me–even when they smiled at me– because it made me nervous to know that someone was looking my way. I didn’t want to be approached or spoken to, and needless to say, I rarely was. Then I would find myself wondering if something was wrong with me because nobody ever talked to me… unaware that I was putting off signals that very clearly said “STAY AWAY.”
If you want to be more approachable, you first have to decide that you’re okay with people talking to you. When you truly have the desire for people to approach you, it will begin to show in your disposition; you will begin holding your head up, looking around, and making eye contact with others. Learn more about making confident eye contact.
2. Use Approachable Body Language
Your body language, including your facial expressions, is an important part of your approachability. You yourself are probably less inclined to approach someone who looks angry, and the people around you feel the same way. Even when you’re in a perfectly good mood, your body language may be indicating otherwise (RBF anyone?), so it’s crucial to be aware of the signals you are giving off through your body language.
Approachable body language starts with a pleasant facial expression, since this is the first thing people will look to when gauging your demeanor. This doesn’t always mean a big, goofy smile; pleasant facial expressions can be neutral, but open and friendly. Rather than keeping your eyes fixed in one place, look around the room and be willing to make eye contact with the people in your line of sight. Offer a smile when you make eye contact with someone, then move on. Pursing your lips and keeping your eyes fixed on the floor or another inanimate location are the opposite of pleasant facial expressions– these indicate standoffishness and will not help you to appear approachable.
Approachable body language also includes an open posture. This means you are relaxed, with shoulders back and head up– not hunched over or tense-looking. An open posture includes open palms, rather than clenched fists or hands shoved into pockets. An open posture also means you are moving around, using natural hand gestures and movements, rather than being frozen in place, which indicates discomfort. In short, approachable body language gives the appearance that you are comfortable and confident.
Paying attention to your body language and facial expressions will help you to become more approachable.
3. Express Emotional Approachability
Your ability to express emotion when having conversations with other people can determine whether they will approach you again in the future. If you are stoic, expressionless, and speak in monotone, people will not desire future conversations with you.
Expressing emotion is an important part of approachability because emotions are what bond people together. People need to know that you care about what they are telling you, and if you’re unable to express that you care, they will perceive you to be unfeeling and unfriendly.
Facial expressions and tone of voice are the two primary ways to express emotion in conversation. When people are telling you something good, you smile. When people are telling you something troublesome, you frown. When they say something humorous, smile and laugh. Each of these things are reactions that people look for in conversation to decipher your level of connection with them as they are sharing their life with you.
Many people struggle with showing these emotions on their faces, despite the fact that they are feeling them. One way to determine your ability to express your emotions through facial expressions is to view yourself in a mirror while you are watching a TV show or listening to a podcast, a comedy special, a speech, or some other audio clip that is emotionally evocative. When you find something funny, sad, or surprising, watch the way it plays out on your face in the mirror. You may find that your face does not indicate the level of emotion you are actually feeling, and this is a good opportunity to work on better expressing yourself.
Tone of voice is another important means of expressing emotion. For example, imagine that someone is asking you to do them a favor by bringing a meal to their sick mother. You can respond with “Sure,” but the tone of voice you use and the emotion conveyed behind the response is critical to the way it is interpreted.
“Sure.” If you respond in this way, with no change in facial expression and no tonal inflection, the person will almost certainly think you are reluctant to complete the favor and you will seem unsympathetic to the plight of their mother.
“Sure, of course!” If you respond in this way, with an enthusiastic tone of voice and facial expression, the person will be reassured that you are willing to help them out and will know that you care about them.
As a teenager, I would often get in trouble for being “sassy and disrespectful.” When I would protest that I didn’t say anything wrong, my parents would respond, “It isn’t what you said, it’s how you said it.” It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand how true this really is. The way you say something is equally as important as what you’re saying. Making sure to convey emotion when you speak to people will let them know that you’re interested in the conversation and care about them as a person, and this will greatly increase your approachability.
The willingness of others to approach you will not only benefit you in your career, but will also assist you in making new friends and developing closer relationships with existing acquaintances. Using eye contact, body language, and emotional expression, you can become the go-to person in your social circles because people will be comfortable seeking you out for conversation and companionship.
How do you think approachability has impacted your social life? Share your stories in the comments!