There are plenty of tips for how to make a great first impression. Embrace those tips and you can feel more confident that other people will like you -- which is awesome, since research shows people who expect to be accepted are actually perceived as more likable. (Making it one prophecy we can be glad is self-fulfilling.)
But here's the thing: If you want to make a great first impression, you know what to do, but it can be tough to tell if you actually are making a great first impression. How can you tell, in the moment, whether the people you meet feel you are likable and friendly?
Science has the answer.
According to a meta-analysis of more than 50 studies that "investigated the relation between self-reported interpersonal attraction and enacted behavior," these six nonverbal signs indicate whether you have established rapport:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Initiating new conversational topics
- Maintaining physical proximity
- Mimicking (unconsciously) your nonverbal expressions
Most of the above make sense. Smiling, laughing, making eye contact, extending the conversation past its opening stages, not edging away ...
Other people mimicking your nonverbal expressions might sound strange at first. But research shows that subconsciously or even intentionally (more on that in a second) imitating other people's nonverbal expressions means we at least partly understand the emotions they are experiencing. Since we all express our emotions nonverbally, copying those expressions affects our own emotions because of an "afferent feedback mechanism."
In short, mimicking my expressions indicates you better understand how I feel.
And if you want to intentionally use the power of body language to your benefit, consciously mimicking facial expressions will make the other person feel the interaction was more positive.
Keep in mind the findings extend well beyond whether the other person likes you in a romantic sense. As the researchers say:
Whether we engage in these behaviors has little or nothing to do with romantic desires. These behaviors apply when doctors interact with their patients, parents interact with their kids, or when salespeople talk to their customers.
When we like someone, we act in ways to get them to trust us. From this perspective, we engage in these behaviors to increase the degree of overlap, interdependence, and commitment to an agreement.
This pretty well describes the goal of just about any kind of relationship -- or even any kind of interaction.
What should you do if you want to make a great first impression?
First, control what you can control. When you meet someone, make sure you're sending the right signals. Sure, your body language is a fundamental part of who you are. Chances are you don't even think about how you stand, sit, and move. You should, of course, because other people instinctively pick up the nonverbal signals you send.
And so do you. Oddly enough, you pick up on your own nonverbal signals: Gestures and postures make a dramatic impact on how you think, feel, and perform.
Then pay close attention to the signals you receive from others. See how people respond, and then make changes to how you approach those first few moments when you meet someone new.
And if you're unsure how, think about it this way.
We all like people who like us. If you show me you're genuinely happy to meet me, I'll instantly start to like you.
And I will smile, make eye contact, laugh, extend the conversation, all of which will help you relax and be yourself.
Which means we both make a great first impression.