Approachability is a vital part of achieving success, both personal and professional. When others feel comfortable reaching out and opening up to you, when they sense that you’ll be receptive to their thoughts and ideas — or at the very least not standoffish or dismissive — your world opens up. Invitations, whether for a beer on the back deck or a dinner with your boss’ boss, come more often. Your opportunity to make more friends and long-lasting connections increases. That’s big.
But here’s the thing: You can be likable and charming as hell during conversations but, from an outside perspective, appear difficult to approach. It’s worth taking measures to make sure that’s not the case. Because if no one thinks you want to engage, the charming, intelligent, fun, droll, or whatever side of you is fenced off. An important note: Approachability is not the same as being a pushover. Inviting others in doesn’t mean letting them steal the carpet. It’s about making others feel comfortable talking to you.
“Interacting with others stimulates social thinking, empathy, and emotional handling,” says Ben Spielberg, a neuroscientist and the CEO of Bespoke Treatment. “How you are perceived in social settings can significantly affect your self-image, ultimately influencing your behavior and emotional well-being.”
A big component of approachability is body language and sending the right nonverbal cues to the people with whom you’re interacting. Cues such as eye contact, posture and facial expressions communicate a great deal and either help put people at ease, or, under the wrong circumstances, make them uneasy.
“Slouching, arm-crossing, leg-crossing, face touching, and frowning create a sense of being shy, defensive, or closed off,” says Speilberg. However, if you keep your hands away from your face and torso, and your feet facing towards the person you’re interacting with, you come across as more confident.
If you want to become a bit more approachable, there are some practical ways do so. Here are a few to remember.
1. Show That Smile
A simple smile can do a lot to help disarm people in a social situation. It lets others know you’re friendly and willing to engage with them. “Frequent smiling at appropriate moments can also enhance approachability by alleviating stress and amplifying the optimism in the exchange,” says Spielberg. “Since the individual you’re interacting with will reflexively mirror the smile, it will also boost their mood, driving them to foster a positive connection with you.”
2. Be Friendly
Maintaining a calm tone of voice. Nodding and raising your eyebrows. Holding doors for people. Such gestures can help others connect with you and make them feel at ease around you. “Practicing friendly and sociable behaviors can make others feel more comfortable opening up, which helps in forming deeper connections,” says Spielberg. “Additionally, expressing empathy towards others' experiences and feelings can help build trust and rapport that provide you with greater success both in your personal and professional life.”
3. Emphasize Eye Contact
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. But good eye contact can help convey confidence, while also building intimacy and trust with the other person. “Making eye contact shows that you are paying attention to what the other person is saying and that you are interested in what they have to say,” says Dr. Rakish Rana, an executive life coach. “Be careful not to stare, though, because it can be seen as rude or intimidating.” When in doubt follow the 50/70 rule: Maintain eye contact for 50 percent of the time when you’re speaking and 70 percent of the time while listening is the way to go. This shows your interest without making things weird.
4. Pay Attention
Here’s a not-so-secret rule to keep in mind: people want to feel like they’re being heard and that what they’re saying is valued and acknowledged. When you focus on remaining present in a conversation — that is, not glancing at your phone, not looking obviously bored or distracted — and making it obvious that they’ve been heard, it goes a long way. “Show that you want to understand the other person's point of view by nodding, asking questions, and summarizing what they have said,” says Rana.
5. Avoid Interrupting
It’s a bad habit that can stop conversations dead, raise the tension, and make you seem impatient, dismissive, and boorish. And we’re all guilty of it to some degree. “Allow others to finish their thoughts before jumping in with your own,” says Laura Wasser, one of America’s most well-known divorce lawyers, Chief of Divorce Evolution at Divorce.com, and an expert on human behavior. “Interrupting makes you seem dismissive or impatient.”
Here are a few rules to help you: Don’t think about what you’ll say next or form an answer in their head while they’re still speaking.. Wait eight-to-10 seconds before speaking to avoid jumping into a conversational gap. Don’t search for solutions or problem-solve in real time. Just listen.
6. Be More Agreeable
No one enjoys confrontation or disagreement in a conversation, and people who actively seek out conflict or who take an opposite point of view simply to start an argument are seen as grating and off-putting. No, this doesn’t mean that you have to compromise your own beliefs or simply agree just to get along. But finding topics on which you both agree can help stimulate positive interactions. Seek common interests, experiences or opinions to help know someone better. This “can help make people feel like they know you and make you seem more approachable,” says Rana.
7. Utilize Mirroring
When we’re interested in someone, we tend to mimic their speech, body language, and other habits. It’s often done without notice and displays connection and empathy. Matching the other person’s tone and body language helps establish a rapport and break down barriers. Consciously adjusting your communication style to match theirs can help put someone at ease. Now, while helpful, this does come with a caveat: “Be careful not to imitate them too much, as this could make you seem fake or like you're trying to trick them,” says Rana.
8. Don’t Brag
Yeah, yeah you know this. Why would we waste the finger-strength to type this out? Because it happens and boastful behavior can easily make you seem defensive, vain, or arrogant. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with telling people about what you’ve accomplished, but you have to know your limits. “Too much self-promotion can make you appear arrogant or uninterested in others,” says Wasser. “Instead, strike a balance by showing curiosity about the other person's experiences.” That right there is the key to being someone people want to talk to.