You know those people with a seemingly magnetic force that attracts all types of people? Whether they’re engaging you in a light and friendly chat or a meaningful conversation, they just seem to have a presence you wish you had. It’s easy to sum it all up and say that some people just have it, and others just don’t, but that’s an unproductive way of thinking about it. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t also be the type of person who charms the pants off of everybody.
If you consider yourself to be socially awkward, or just chronically shy, you may feel like it takes a lot of effort to have engaging interactions with others. For me, I know if the person I’m talking to seems uncomfortable, I start to think that I’ve offended or bored him. Is he thinking about his to-do list right now? Am I that lame? Without some type of visible reassurance telling me the person I’m speaking with is enjoying the conversation, I struggle to be present and am bound to forget about the individual.
Don’t be that forgettable person. Become approachable by learning the secret to magnetism and charm. Drum roll, please! The secret to being the most sought after, likable person in the room is smiling! But, wait, before you X out, there’s more to it than you think—after all, if it was that simple, everyone would be the most likable person.
Think back to recent interactions you’ve had with colleagues, friends, and strangers. Most likely, the conversations that were the most animated were your most memorable, the ones that had you walking away feeling rejuvenated, not exhausted. Making an effort to forge a social bond can go a long way in leaving your counterpart with a positive first impression, and it can be easily achieved by using inviting body language, including the person’s name in your dialogue, asking relevant questions, and, yes, smiling.
Research shows that most people decide whether or not they like someone within the first seven seconds of meeting him or her. (If that statistic sounds familiar, it’s because it also holds true when talking about reviewing resumes.) Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, conducted a study on first impressions. Facial expressions largely influence our initial impressions when considered traits like warmth and competence. This early impression ultimately helps us decide whether we hire Samantha or Jeremy for the role. Be cognizant of your body language, including whether or not you’re smiling, if you want to give off that enviable, likable, and approachable vibe.
“You can purposely present yourself as warm—you can control that,” Cuddy explains. “But we feel that competence can’t be faked…On the other hand, being a jerk—well, we’re not very forgiving of people who act that way.”
Smiling is a simple and effective way to display warmth, but it also influences your brain. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at UCLA, studied the mirror effect on neurons in the body, and tells us that it’s also contagious.
Iacoboni writes, “When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile. I don’t need to make any inference on what you’re feeling, I experience immediately and effortlessly (in a milder form, of course) what you are experiencing.”
For example, pairing a genuine smile with, “Hi, I’m Lauren, founder of LaunchPoint Resume. Are you enjoying this event so far?” is very effective. Add in a firm handshake, and you’re golden. Of course, you’ll want to avoid a permanent, frozen, ear-to-ear grin, which’ll look silly, especially if you’re speaking on a serious topic. That early upturn of the mouth, however, can do a lot in putting others at ease, so get into the practice of opening with it when you meet someone new or jump into a conversation with a group of people. And, look, if you’re not the type to approach someone else, it’s acceptable to hang back, but remember that if you’re pouting or accidentally looking sullen, no one’s going to be eager to initiate a conversation with you.
If you’re one of those people accused of having RBF, or if smiling doesn’t come naturally to you, you may have some work to do. Since a manufactured smile will come across as superficial, try searching for a funny meme, watching an old SNL skit online, or scrolling through pictures of cats playing with dogs when you need a pick-me-up and need to make a good first impression or further foster connections you’ve made. When you’re genuinely in a good mood, your smile—the kind that reaches the muscles in your eyes—will automatically be more engaging, authentic, and effective.