Have you ever noticed how some people are just more approachable? Somehow they just seem to show up and people just gravitate to them. It almost doesn’t seem fair, does it? You’re sitting there, dying for company or conversation or an opportunity to talk to that cute girl in your class and they just roll up and become the center of attention.
Being social can be difficult, especially when you’re shy or socially anxious. Whether you want to make friends or flirt with someone, sometimes wrestling past your own approach anxiety can be a step too far. It would be great if you could bring more people to you. But even when you do make the first move, knowing how to be more approachable can help you find social success.
Consider How You Appear To Others
First things first: if you want to be more approachable, you have to consider how you come across to the people you want to approach you. One of the reasons why people feel more comfortable approaching one person over another is simply how they present themselves to the world around them. It’s an easy thing to miss; we rarely put much thought into the effort it takes to look approachable. But the way you look – not your physical features, but your overall appearance – sends a message. Sometimes that message is “Hi, hello, how are you, let’s talk about how awesome the Rebel One trailer is and debate dual-timeline theories in West World!” Other times, that message is “If you talk to me, I will set you on fucking fire.”
Dressing well is the first step to appearing more approachable. How you dress is an outward sign of who you are as a person, and people are going to make judgements based on those signs. Someone who’s put some care into their appearance – even if it’s a clean hoodie and jeans – is more appealing and approachable than someone who looks like they were attacked by a pile of dirty laundry and probably smell like feet.
The next step is your body language. As I’ve said many times before: your body language communicates far more about you and your attitude than you realize. Closed-off body language like crossed arms and avoiding eye-contact are ways of signalling that you don’t feel comfortable and would rather be left alone. Hunched shoulders, a slouching posture and folding in on yourself tell others that you’re trying to not be noticed; they’re ways of taking up less space and being more unobtrusive. Straightening up, opening up your torso and taking up space make you more welcoming and approachable.
Just as important: making eye-contact and giving a smile. Looking like Grumpy Cat is your patronus just ensures that people aren’t going to want to talk to you.
You may know that you’re in a friendly mood, but other people can’t read your mind. and it’s a thing that’s going to keep people away.
Speaking of which:
Don’t Put Barriers Between You And Being Approached
One of the things that makes a difference between someone being approachable and someone who just wants to be left the hell alone: they put obstacles between themselves and everyone else.
The most obvious example of this is the ever-classic “headphones and sunglasses” approach. There’re many variations – keeping your hoodie up, being absolutely absorbed in your book, your laptop or your phone, turning your back to the people around you… all of these are ways of making sure that people won’t talk to you.
If you want folks to feel like you’re someone they can talk to – especially if they don’t know you – you have to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. It’s nice to believe that there’re folks out there who’ll instinctively see your inner value and make a point of drawing you out of your shell. It’s also nice to believe that there’s a way to beat slot machines or a secret way to pick winning lottery numbers. Most people simply aren’t going to be so invested in a stranger that they’re willing to work to get their attention. They would much rather spend their energy getting to know someone who’s open, approachable and friendly than someone who’s put up their Do Not Disturb sign.
Of course, sometimes the barriers are simply social. Other people can be just as shy and awkward as you are. They’re going to need more than just an open path. If you want people to approach you, you have to do more than just clear the proverbial runway. You have to let them know it’s ok for folks to come talk to you.
However, if you’re going to give the “come hither” signs, you have to make it worth their while. What do I mean?
Focus On Others, Not On What They Think of You
Part of what makes people approachable is how they make us feel. Do we feel good in their presence, or do we feel like that person just wants an audience?
Now turn that around and apply it to your own approach with people. Are you more concerned with impressing people? Or do you focus on getting to know them? The most approachable people are interested in other people. People, on the other hand, who’re more concerned with showing how special they are, tend to be less approachable.
You don’t need to impress people. In fact, rushing to show them why they should be interested in you tends to backfire. The more you try to give people reasons to be impressed – you speak multiple languages, you’re an accomplished pianist, you can lick your eyebrows and breathe through your ears – the more likely you are to come off as either conceited or insecure. Neither of these is ideal for being approachable. The former turns people off. We all have better things to do than listen to a recitation of why somebody is special and amazing. After all, sometimes “great” is spelled “grate”. The latter is just as bad because it signals low social intelligence.
Instead, you want to focus on them. One of the oldest tricks in the book to making people like you is to ask someone about themselves. Everyone from Dale Carnegie to hostage negotiators agree: the best way to build rapport with someone than to ask about their favorite subject. Themselves. That’s not a joke. Science has found that pretty much everybody loves to talk about themselves. Talking about ourselves lights up the same pleasure centers in the brain as food. This is part of why Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are so popular: it’s our chance to share our thoughts and opinions with the world.
So when we meet someone who wants to hear what we think about something? We’re going to like that person more. Simply being an active listener and asking people questions – without judging them, mind you – is going to make you far more approachable and interesting to folks than the next would-be social butterfly who’s too busy dropping names and bon mots to care what other people think.
Speaking of being welcoming…
Expect People To Like You
How many times have you seen someone and just could feel unfriendliness radiating off of them? Perhaps they carried their sense of “nobody likes me, I’m cursed” like a shitty backpack. Or perhaps you could sense that they had already decided that everybody around them had written them off. How likely were you to want to talk to them?
Now realize that other people have felt that way about you. One of the most important parts of being approachable is simple: you have to expect the best from people. If you’re giving off waves of negativity, people will respond appropriately. Social acceptance tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you assume that people aren’t going to like you, they probably won’t. By the same token, if you assume that people will like you, they will.
Yeah, it sounds like feel-good, woo-woo bullshit, but there’s legitimate science behind this. And the reasoning is sound: your attitude directly affects everything about you. If you expect people to be mean to you, you’re going to tense up in anticipation, if you don’t avoid them entirely. You’ll be more likely to interpret anything they say in the worst possible manner. You’ll even miss out on the positive things because you won’t believe them or write them off as being a trick.
On the other hand, anticipating the best changes your mindset for the positive. You’re less likely to write people’s reaction off as a fluke or a mistake. You’re also less likely to overanalyze every reaction – did they hesitate after you made that joke? DO THEY HATE YOU NOW? No, of course not, because why would they?
But while we’re on the subject of liking people…
The Key To Being More Approachable: Projecting Warmth
You don’t just want to assume other people like you. You want to make them feel liked in return. People who project warmth and interest in others are far more approachable than people who don’t.
Marvel’s cinematic universe has given us an amazing example of warmth in action. Let’s look at cold and self-interested characters like Stephen Strange and Tony Stark.
How comfortable would you feel going up to either of them and asking for directions? What about an autograph? Or just trying to start a conversation? Likely not very. Stark and Strange1 are defined by their arrogance. They’re fun to watch, but dealing with them in person would be like chewing aluminum foil.
Now consider Steve Rogers.
Part of what makes Cap so appealing is that he may be a living legend, but he makes you feel at ease. You believe he’s happy to talk to you because he just projects so much warmth and interest. That feeling is incredibly powerful – and you can harness it just as easily.
The most obvious starting point is a smile. Remember what I said earlier about how you appear to others? A warm, inviting smile makes you feel like someone people are comfortable approaching. It tells others that you welcome their presence.
The next step is making people feel validated and appreciated. Showing interest in others, for example, is part of this. But it’s more than just asking their opinion or giving them room to talk about themselves. It’s showing them that you think they’re worth listening to.
Think of the times when you were talking to someone who would smile and laugh at your jokes. No matter how dumb they were, that person would crack up. How much did you appreciate that? How much did you want them to stick around? Their presence makes you feel better about yourself; you feel warm and welcome. This is the effect you want to evoke in others. Give them your full attention and react to what they say. Laugh at their jokes, get excited with them, demonstrate that you enjoy what they have to say. That doesn’t mean that you want to be a suck-up – people don’t appreciate a toadie or a brown-noser. But by mixing that feeling of warmth and confidence with acceptance and interest, you’ll become a more magnetic and charismatic person.
You won’t have to spend as much time making the first move, because people will be noticing you. And they’ll be making a point to come talk to you.
- Which is the name of my Smiths cover band… [↩]