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Perhaps someone’s remarked that you look angry or aloof. Or, you wonder why people approach your friends but not you. Here’s how to go from looking unapproachable and stand-offish to approachable and friendly.
Part 1: How to appear more approachable and friendly
Part 2: How to be more friendly when you interact with someone
Part 3: Deal with underlying reasons for looking unapproachable
Part 4: How to be approached more
- Head tilted down
- Wrinkle because of tense eyebrows
- Tense jaw
- Smile in the corner of the mouth
- Slight crows feet in corner of eyes
- Relaxed jaw
1. Relax your face
Nervousness can make us tense up without noticing. Remind yourself to relax the muscles in your face if you think that you might look tense. Make sure your lips and teeth don’t press together: You want your jaw to be just slightly open.
2. Practice a casual smile
Smile slightly with the corners of your mouth if you usually frown. It will feel weird before you make it a habit, but that’s normal. The smile can be very subtle – it’s more about canceling out the frown than grinning.
Having a resting facial expression that looks bored or angry is called RBF or Resting Bitch Face. For some reason, it’s associated with women, but it’s as common for men as it is for women. Test if you have RBF here.
3. Smile with your eyes
Smiling with only the mouth and not the eyes can look insincere. You know that you smile with your eyes when you get a little wrinkle in the outer corner of your eyes that has the shape of a crow’s feet. Ease up a stern face by smiling slightly with your eyes together with a smile in the corners of your mouth.
4. Relax your eyebrows
Relax your eyebrows if you tend to lower them. Lowered eyebrows and the wrinkle between the eyebrows signals anger, even if we just do it because we’re uncomfortable or think about something that bothers us.
5. Ask good friends why they think you look unapproachable
Tell a friend you trust that you think that you look unapproachable. Ask them why they think it could be. They might notice things about you that you had no clue about.
Be clear to your friend that you don’t want supporting words but their honest opinion on what you could do differently.
6. Keep a bit of extra eye contact
Look people in the eyes. When you greet people, keep a second of extra eye contact after you’ve shaken hands.
Eye contacts make friendly situations more friendly and hostile situations more hostile. Therefore, it’s important to keep eye contact with a relaxed face. Pro tip: Blink once while you keep eye contact to make it feel less like a stare.
7. Look in people’s general direction
Don’t look straight at strangers at mingles and parties, but in their general direction. If they, in turn, look in your general direction, you can make eye contact and give them a friendly smile. If you don’t look in people’s general direction, you won’t notice if they try to make contact with you.
8. Use an open body language
Use an upright posture: Straight back and arms uncrossed. If you tilt your head back, you can come off as intimidating or stuck-up. If you tilt it down, you might come off as insecure or aloof. Therefore, keep you face vertical and your gaze horizontal.
9. Use a mirror to see how you look
Try out the examples above in a mirror. Compare the difference with and without adjusting your smile, eyebrows, and tension.
Use the mirror to make sure that you don’t over-do. Even better is to take a video of yourself with your phone. At least for me, this felt more natural than looking at yourself in a mirror.
10. Avoid things that cover you, such as sunglasses, hoodies, or big scarves
People get uncomfortable when they can’t see someone’s eyes or facial expressions clearly. Therefore it’s good to avoid obscuring your face. Covering your neck can signal that you’re uncomfortable: Since it’s a vulnerable area, exposing it or covering it (with clothing or a hand) has historically been an indicator of how comfortable we are.
11. Avoid intimidating clothes
Avoid dressing in all black or in clothes that might make people uncomfortable approaching you. I love people who express themselves with their clothes and I often dress in all black, but when I have the goal of being approachable, I always avoid extremes.
Showing a lot of skin doesn’t necessarily make you more approachable. The same thing here: If you look TOO different from those around you, it can be intimidating.
On the flip-side, you can also stand out in a good way: Having a colorful or unusual item on you or wearing an eye-catching outfit that enhances your looks and isn’t intimidating.
To know the difference, ask yourself if your outfit signals that it could be a positive or negative experience to approach you.
12. Don’t act busy when you’re not
Be present in the moment and avoid your phone when you’re around people. Practice looking at bypassers rather than at your phone. If you look busy, people will assume that you don’t want to be bothered.
13. Don’t stand too far away from others
When we feel uncomfortable, we often try to put distance between us and those around us (without even being aware of it). One example is if we share a couch with someone and we start leaning away from that person. Another example is if we’re in a group conversation but don’t feel included so we stand one step outside of the group. If you notice that you stand far away from others, move a bit closer so that you are within a normal distance.
14. Think of something that makes you happy when you want to be seen as approachable
Think about something specific that makes you happy. Tap into that happiness and try to feel it in your entire body. I, for example, get happy when I think about meeting up with a specific friend for coffee. I can visualize the walk to the café and focus my attention on the positive feeling. This makes me feel – and look – happier and friendlier.
15. See people as old friends
Imagine that everyone you meet is an old friend. How would you react? How would you smile? What would your face and body language be like?
16. Maximize your looks
Look your best and take care of your appearance. Here are some examples: Make sure that your hair looks good and get regular haircuts. Wear clothes that make you look good. If you have acne, take Vitamin A. If you are very pale, spend 20 minutes in the sun daily. If you’re overweight, look up a sustainable weight loss diet. It’s a good mindset to always do something to make your future you a little better than the current you.
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17. Make a positive remark if you want to start talking to someone
Making a positive remark signals that you’re open for interaction. It can be obvious and doesn’t have to be clever. Simply saying a few words is enough to let people know that you’re friendly.
“I love this view”
“The bread smells so good”
“This is such a nice house”
1. Dare to be warm first
It’s common to be standoffish if we’re a bit uncertain what the other person might think of us. To avoid rejection, we wait for the other person to be friendly before we dare to be. That’s a mistake because the other person is probably thinking the same thing.
Dare to meet the person like you would if you’d assume that they’ll like you: Smile, be friendly, ask sincere questions, make eye contact.
2. Ask a personal question to signal that you’re friendly and open for interaction
Ask how people are and what they do. It signals that you’re open for interaction. The conversation can be very simple and what you ask isn’t that important. It’s just about signaling that you’re friendly.
– Hi, how are you doing?
– Good, how are you?
– I’m good. How do you know people here?
3. Use a friendly tone of voice
Use a tone that’s a bit friendlier if you usually sound harsh. Feeling nervous can tighten your throat and give you a stern voice. Ease up by practicing different ways of talking when you’re by yourself. One trick to sound friendlier is to use tonal variation: Varying more between your low and high tones.
Here’s an example:
For some of us, there are underlying reasons for why we look unapproachable, such as anxiety or shyness.
1. Examine if you tense up because of nervousness
2. Change the way you talk to yourself
Negative self-talk like “people won’t like me” obviously makes us more hesitant to approach people. Ironically, this hesitation makes us look unapproachable, and when we don’t get interacted with, we think it’s because people don’t like us.
Change this by challenging your critical voice. If the voice tells you that people won’t like you, remind yourself of times where people did indeed like you.
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This part is relevant if you want to be approached in a dating or flirting context.
“I’m relatively good-looking but my friends get approached way more. I’m afraid that I look unapproachable. How do I get approached more by guys?”
The advice you’ve received so far in this guide is relevant here as well. Here are some additional advice specifically for being approached more.
1. Keep eye contact and smile
If you make eye contact with someone, keep that eye contact a second extra and smile. You can blink once to avoid coming off as staring. Subtle flirting like this signals that you’re friendly and makes is much less scary for someone to come up to you.
2. Avoid only going out in large groups
Large groups make it scary for someone to approach. The social shame is naturally much higher if the approach doesn’t go well when there are more people to observe it. You’re likely to be approached more if you’re by yourself.
3. Behave more like you do when you’re relaxed even when you’re in public
When we get nervous we tend to restrict ourselves. Think about how you are when you’re with close friends in a safe environment. If that’s more like you, your authenticity will make you more attractive.
4. Dare to take up more space
When we feel uncomfortable, we tend to take up less space, both in conversations and physically.
When you’re out, you can practice taking up more space by taking a walk around the venue without having a specific goal other than to “check it out”. It can feel uncomfortable at first but helps you expand your comfort zone. In a conversation, practice sharing your opinion on a subject even if it feels uncomfortable to have everyone’s eyes on you.
Don’t be overly loud or overly dominant. That can come off as over-compensating and signal insecurity.
- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/02/02/scientists-have-discovered-the-source-of-your-resting-bitch-face/ Retrieved Aug 29, 2019.
- Ekman, P. (1993). Facial expression and emotion. American psychologist, 48(4), 384.
- Reisman, J. M. (1983). SACRAL: Toward the meaning and measurement of friendliness. Journal of personality assessment, 47(4), 405-413.
- Dolcos, S. & Albarracin, D. (2014). The inner speech of behavioral regulation: Intentions and task performance strengthen when you talk to yourself as a You. European Journal of Social Psychology
- Psychology of smiling: can you tell a fake smile from a genuine one? Retrieved September 23, 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/apr/10/psychology-empathy-distinguish-fake-genuine-smiles