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Becoming more approachable can help you better connect with people both in your personal and work life. It can often lead to new friends, better partners, and even a promotion or great new job.
This all sounds great, but where do you even begin with such a transformation? Isn’t changing your personality a seriously daunting task? And doesn’t it take a long time?
The answer is: not quite. There are a number of simple strategies you can use in everyday conversation to make others much more comfortable in talking and opening up to you. And that’s an attribute that can open a lot of doors for you.
If you’re naturally shy and introverted, you may find it pretty hard to open up in challenging situations. And you might also be reluctant to approach others if you assume they’re too busy, or your concerns aren’t important enough to disturb them.
Most of the time, this shyness can be attributed to mild anxiety and nervousness as you meet new people and are exposed to unfamiliar environments. If that’s the case, learning how to be more friendly and approachable is just a matter of habit-building.
If, however, these feelings of unrest and discomfort persist and cause real issues with your participation in society, it might be a sign of something more serious. Social Anxiety Disorder (aka social phobia) is very real, but it too can be treated with professional help.
That said, the majority of us can always benefit from an increase in approachability and interpersonal magnetism. Don’t let your anxiety push people and opportunities away from you; you can take control of your mind and body today with a few simple behavioral and attitudinal changes.
Here’s how you can look and feel more approachable when it matters the most.
We all want to think we’re somewhat open and accessible, but our actions can tell a different story. If you’re constantly on your phone or staring at your computer screen when someone’s trying to tell you something, chances are you’re not coming off as open and approachable as you’d like.
Yes, you might be drowning in work, but that’s no excuse to ignore people when they attempt to communicate with you. If you play the ‘busy’ card a bit too often, friends and colleagues will eventually stop trying to reach you. And can you really blame them?
Don’t just say you’re open, accessible, and available—show it! If someone’s talking to you, the least you can do is spare them a glance. And better yet, stop what you’re doing, take your headphones off, and give them your full attention. If you truly are too busy, communicate it in a calm and relaxed manner: “Would you mind coming back a bit later? I’m just in the middle of something complex.”
Looking for an effective way to attract people during large networking events? If you want to make new friends or meet new people outside of the office, staying in groups of two or three is ideal.
Think about it; no-one wants to interrupt two people that are deeply engaged in conversation. Equally, not many people are brave enough to introduce themselves to a massive group of fifteen people.
There’s a reason why most primates use their smiles to fight nervousness and anxiety. Smiling has a direct effect on your brain as it activates neural pathways associated with health and happiness. When you crack a smile, tiny molecules called neuropeptides fire up neurotransmitters in your body, releasing wonderful feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin).
Seeing other people smile can make you feel just as good too. Swedish researchers Ulf Dimberg and Sven Söderkvist found that smiling can actually create a ripple effect, which explains why smiling back at people comes so naturally.
The bottom line is that once a smiling session has been initiated, the mood’s set for good. Be the first one to smile if you have to, but make sure the timing is right. You want to appear friendly and approachable, not weird and creepy. Be natural. Don’t force yourself to smile, but make an effort to look happy when others seem amused.
Laughter is a bit more situational. Yes, sometimes seriousness will be the word of the day. But even the most successful leaders know how to have a good laugh every now and then. Don’t be afraid to use a little humor to break the tension. Needless to say, you shouldn’t use humor to poke fun at somebody’s mistakes or shortcomings, but in certain cultures (eg. UK and Australia) a bit of friendly ribbing is acceptable, once you’ve gotten to know them. You’ll have to use your emotional intelligence to figure out when it’s appropriate to do so.
Even if we’re not always aware of it, we often use our bodies to convey emotion. According to research, specific brain regions are tasked with reading, understanding, and deciphering body language. It seems like our bodies do have a mind of their own, after all.
The way you stand has a big influence on how you feel in certain situations. If you want to appear more approachable, you’ll want to avoid posture that indicates nervousness and anxiety.
Most of the time, it’s simply a matter of adopting open body language—as opposed to closed body language. What does that mean? Well, true to our primal instincts, we tend to cover our most vulnerable body parts when we feel threatened. Going against your instincts and exposing those very areas can make you appear more approachable, friendly, and inviting.
When presenting a more relaxed version of yourself, make sure you’re not:
Imagine trying to talk to someone whose head is constantly facing the floor. They wouldn’t really come off as friendly and approachable, would they? If your goal is to make people feel at ease around you, you need to make sure they know you’re interested in them too.
There’s usually nothing too interesting or remarkable about floor tiles and fitted carpets, so make yourself available by keeping your head level during conversations.
Our eyes are not just for seeing - they’re for communicating. Building a ‘sequential functional model of nonverbal exchange’ in the 1980s, Miles Patterson identified and categorized many social functions and behavioral patterns related to non-verbal forms of communication—including sight, of course.
If you want to build rapport and avoid confrontation, all you have to do is maintain eye contact when talking with someone. This can be difficult if you’re not used to it, but it really does allow you to instantly connect with others. People who consistently avoid eye contact can come off as dishonest, untrustworthy, and disinterested. If you want to be approachable, you’ll have to let your eyes do the talking before you even open your mouth.
As you’ve probably already realized, it’s usually the little things that make a huge difference. Minding the positioning of your feet, legs, and body as a whole when talking with someone is more important than you think.
We subconsciously tend to position ourselves toward people and objects we want to interact with and tend to move away from people and objects we want to avoid. To appear grounded and in-the-moment, make a habit of turning your body to face the other person completely.
The one time this rule can be broken is when you’re networking or at a party, and you’re open to other people joining the group. Instead of directly facing each other, you can slightly angle yourself outwards, giving a subtle signal that you’re accepting new members to the conversation.
Body language signs aren’t just about you. Aside from controlling your body, you also have to learn how to look more approachable by avoiding physical blocks. That binder you’re carrying around with you at the office all the time? Keep it far away from your face and chest next time you bump into a colleague in the hallway.
Of course, it’s not just binders and folders. Any physical object can subconsciously be used as a shield (e.g., a glass of wine at a party, a hat/scarf on a date). Open up, and avoid raising physical barriers between you and the people you’re trying to connect with.
It’s normal to feel anxious and nervous in naturally stressful situations (e.g., important team meetings, job interviews, dates). You can’t really control that. You can, however, control the way you react to those emotions. Certain habits (e.g., biting your nails, touching your face, playing with your hair, fidgeting your pen) are dead giveaways that you’re not feeling too comfortable in your own skin.
Fortunately for you, these nervous habits can be avoided with practice. If you can learn to control your tics and impulses and just concentrate on what’s happening around you, you’ll radiate more confidence and approachability.
How often do you stop to listen to what’s happening around you? Do you communicate with your friends and colleagues often enough to know how they spend their free time? Do you know anything about their hobbies, favorite foods, or travel plans for the summer holidays?
If you answered yes, then chances are you’re good at what we here at F4S call affective communication. You’re highly sensitive and perceptive, always making the most of what’s not said to understand how others around you feel—a sign of high emotional intelligence. You rely on tone of voice, gestures, and other non-verbal cues to make sense of the world around you.
Nothing’s ever just about work, even if the circumstances would have you believe so. Learning how to become more approachable is largely a process of really listening to what others have to say. We’re naturally drawn to people who share our interests and who can empathetically respond to our own troubles and concerns. If you keep your ears open and bring up the right topics at the right time, people will naturally gravitate toward you.
Talking is easy; listening takes practice. If you’re not sure whether you’re a good listener, give the ‘3:1 test’ a go.
When talking with someone, force yourself to ask three questions before bringing an interesting—to you—topic back into focus. The 3:1 test will help you better understand how good you really are at ‘affective communication’. Do you find yourself dominating the conversation a bit too often? Perhaps you need to think of creative ways to bring the other person—and their interests—back into the conversation. Communication is a two-way street, after all.
Make an effort to make sense of what’s being said. Remember to nod every now and then to show that you’re interested and engaged in the conversation. If you’re having trouble following someone’s train of thought, don’t be afraid to ask questions or raise your hand slightly to indicate you want to ask something without interrupting them. You can always use this information to initiate more interesting discussions with them in the future, too.
Needless to say, communication isn’t always easy, especially at times like these. Intentional and meaningful communication has never been more important. If you want to communicate more effectively, you need to start spending more quality time with your team. (For best results, avoid these 7 barriers to communication at all costs.)
We all do this when we find ourselves around people we like. Mirroring someone’s body language is scientifically known as limbic synchrony, and it’s apparently hardwired into our brain. Babies do it; partners do it; we all do it. It’s a subconscious process that primates take advantage of to build rapport and show that they mean well.
If you’re looking for a quick hack to appear more friendly and approachable, just make a habit of subtly mirroring the other person’s movements—’subtly’ being the key word here. Don’t overdo it unless you want to make a fool of yourself - if it seems intentional, the effect will be lost and your conversation partner will lose trust in you.
We’ve shared many tips for becoming more approachable with you today, but they won’t do you much good if you can’t maintain a positive outlook on things. Yes, putting on a smile, minding your body language, and listening to others are all things you need to keep in mind. But you can’t just fake your way into people’s hearts; you can’t act a certain way and expect people to like you. You need to do all these things because you’re truly kind and want to make others feel important and appreciated.
Don’t just wait for people to come to you. Go to others first and try to make them feel comfortable by showing you care. Don’t leave anyone out, and you won’t ever feel left out. Remember: positivity attracts positivity.