11 body language gestures that lead to instant likeability

by Brendan Brown | January 29, 2024, 2:37 pm

How many languages do you speak?

If you think it’s just one, and that language is English, you’re wrong. Because all of us also speak body language, whether we realize it or not.

There’s a statistic you may have heard that states 90% of communication is nonverbal.

Whether that’s completely accurate or not is hard to say, but it’s certainly true that we convey a huge amount of information to each other not by what we say, but by our tone of voice, our facial expressions, and our posture.

That’s body language. And we all speak it, whether we realize it or not.

You are communicating things with your body right now, so you may as well learn how to do it properly. Master the art of body language, and you can make people more likely to like you without even realizing why.

Here are some techniques to develop more likable body language.

1) Stand up straight

This is one most of us got told as children. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Standing up straight without slumping your shoulders projects confidence and comfort. And by making yourself appear comfortable, you make those around you more comfortable too.

Often, tall people have a tendency to slump and minimize their height, but this can backfire by making you look as though you lack confidence.

And it’s not just all people, either. Lots of people – especially those who lack self-esteem – have a bad habit of trying to make themselves look smaller than they really are.

According to body language expert Lillian Glass, standing up straight with your head up projects confidence. She even suggests imagining there is an invisible string pulling at the top of your head to make sure you keep your head upright at all times.

2) Sit up straight

Just like standing up straight, sitting straight is a great way to project confidence and a sense of ease and comfort that will put other people at their ease, too.

You don’t have to sit bolt upright with your back perfectly straight. But you should hold your spine fairly straight and your shoulders in a relaxed position.

There should always be some tension in your core to hold you upright. You shouldn’t be straining and clenching all the time, but you should be using some of your core muscles to hold yourself up in your seat.

Funnily enough, this muscular tension will make you look more at ease.

3) Stand still

Along with standing straight, one of the keys to making yourself more likable through body language is to stand still.

You don’t have to be a statue, of course. But shifting your weight from foot to foot or fidgeting is a great way to make you look nervous.

Remember, humans are social animals, and we take our emotional cues from each other more than we necessarily realize.

If you look nervous and as if you are about to run away, other people will feel the nervousness they see coming from you.

And because we don’t always rationally process body language, they will associate that feeling of unease with you personally, making them less likely to like you.

4) Smile (with your eyes)

A smile is one of the more obvious types of nonverbal communication. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean you should underestimate its power.

A warm smile, especially when you greet someone, is one of the best ways to ensure a positive reaction and make you more likable.

The key is that the smile needs to seem genuine.

Model and TV star Tyra Banks coined the term “smize”, which means to smile with the eyes. Tyler was definitely on to something, because smiling with your eyes – known to scientists as a Duchenne smile – is perceived as far more genuine than when you smile with your lips alone.

And there’s more.

Neurological studies show that a Duchenne smile stimulates the same parts of your brain that light up when you’re genuinely happy, suggesting that the act of smiling this way can actually make you happier.

And guess what? People tend to like happy people.

5) Make eye contact

This is another one you’ve probably been told before. However, eye contact can be a subtle thing, and it’s not always easy to get it right.

Check out this study, which demonstrated that people who hold eye contact with an interviewer are seen as better candidates for a job.

Or this article, which describes how not making eye contact with people makes others feel invisible.

Not making eye contact can make you seem nervous, evasive, or uninterested in the person you’re interacting with. And none of these things will make people like you more.

On the other hand, eye contact is a great example of a good thing that can sometimes become too much.

Staring intensely at someone without ever looking away can make you seem strange. 

And although the length of eye contact people prefer varies,  studies suggest three seconds as an average, with no one in the study liking a gaze that lasted longer than nine seconds.

The key, then, to effective eye contact is to look away every few seconds, then look back again at the person you are interacting with.

While it can feel a little unnatural to be this conscious of where you’re looking, after a while, it becomes second nature, and is a great way to make yourself more likable.

6) Keep your arms at your sides

This is one I learned when I worked in customer service.

Fidgeting can make you seem nervous. But standing with your arms crossed can make you seem defensive and uninterested in what other people are saying.

If you want to be likable, the best thing to do with your arms is to keep them at your sides in a relaxed posture with your shoulders loose but held back.

7) Point your feet toward the other person

This is a subtle thing that people may notice without even realizing that they notice it.

Basically, we have a natural tendency to point our feet in the direction we want to go next.

That means if someone stands or sits with their feet pointing toward you, they are interested and engaged in what you’re saying.

On the other hand, if their feet point toward the door, it means they are thinking about making an exit.

8) Breathe from your stomach

Breathing is another thing we often don’t consciously pay attention to, whether it’s our own or other people’s.

But if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably noticed that appearing to be relaxed is one of the keys to making your body language more likable.

And breathing plays a huge role in relaxation.

When we are nervous, we tend to breathe from our chests, and our breathing is quicker and more shallow. On the other hand, when we relax, we breathe lower down, from our stomach.

Not only does breathing this way make you seem more relaxed, but it can actually help you relax in stressful social situations.

9) Keep handshakes firm but gentle

Entire books have been written on the art of the handshake. Often, we shake people’s hands when we meet them for the first time, and so it’s a big part of making a good first impression.

One of the most complex aspects of the handshake is knowing how much pressure to apply. You should grip the other person’s hand firmly, but don’t squeeze it tight. It’s not a contest to see who can crush the other person’s hand.

If in doubt, match what the other person is doing and try to apply a grip with the same pressure as theirs.

10) Touch gently

The handshake is often the only acceptable way to touch someone you don’t know well. But as your relationship progresses, touch can be an important part of positive body language.

Body language expert Joe Navarro writes that touch is an important part of human communication, but it can be misinterpreted as an intrusion of personal space or as a sexual advance.

Touching people in specific areas like shoulders, hands, and arms can make you appear affectionate and trustworthy without giving the wrong signals. That makes it a great way to see more likable.

11) Keep your shoulders down

This one applies in lots of different situations.

Whether you’re standing or sitting, meeting someone for the first time or running into people you know well, keeping your shoulders down is a great way to seem more relaxed.

If you want to be likable, your posture should be upright and engaged, but relaxed at the same time. Keeping your shoulders down is a great way to do that.

The more relaxed you seem, the more people will be able to relax around you, making them like you more.

Body language and likability

There are lots of components to getting other people to like you. But often, the way you carry yourself speaks volumes about yourself before you even open your mouth.

Embrace these gestures to put other people at ease and make them like you instantly.

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