It can take as little as 100 milliseconds for people to make up their minds about you, research has shown. That’s literally less than the blink of an eye. With that little time, everything from what you wear to what you do with your hands has an impact.
Being likable is mainly about being accessible, says Marc Salem, Ph.D., a nonverbal communications consultant. “You want to break down barriers between you and other people,” he says. If you want to make the most of those first 100 milliseconds and the ones that follow—whether it’s for a first date or a job interview—nail these 13 simple steps.
1. Take care of your nails
You probably already know that you should brush your teeth and trim your beard. But nails are an often overlooked and surprisingly important part of grooming, Salem says. “It shows a basic tendency to care,” he says. There’s laziness to an unkempt appearance. “But when you’re well groomed, you’re more pleasant to be around,” he says. “You sparkle and you feel better.”
2. Use just enough cologne
People will like you more if you smell nice—but not too nice. A study from Northwestern University found that people rated faces as more likable if they were accompanied by a pleasant aroma, but only if they were unaware of the smell. So when putting on cologne, steer clear of using too much—two spritzes should do the trick. Subtlety is key because you want the person to like you, not your musk, says Alec Beall, a researcher who studies attraction.
3. Ditch the shades
You want to look approachable, not shady, Salem says. Covering your face creates a barrier between you and the other person and makes you seem standoffish. So save the sunglasses for when you really need them, like at the game or at the beach, and take them off when you meet new people.
4. Let Baxter tag along
Next time you head to a barbecue, ask the host if you can bring your dog. Research has shown that the furry friend can make you more likable just by being near you. People appear happier, safer, and more relaxed when they’re with man’s best friend, the study says. Plus, it’s a great way to break the ice with new people. Unless of course your dog is a menace—better to leave him at home than risk pissing off (or on) the hostess.
5. Kick your feet up
Lean back in your chair, kick your feet up onto your desk, and interlace your fingers behind your head, with your elbows wide. Feels pretty good, right? A study from Columbia and Harvard universities shows that this pose will infuse you with energy and confidence. It actually changes your body chemistry: After two minutes in that position, levels of testosterone rise and levels of cortisol fall. The researchers call this “power posing” and recommend taking the pose in preparation for high-pressure social situations. In a subsequent study, people who power-posed before a mock job interview were more likely to get the job.
Just don’t do this while you’re with another person, Salem warns. The pose exerts dominance. If your goal is likability, you want to be accessible.
6. Don’t cross your arms
You might be chilly, but to the other person, you look rude, Salem says. If your hands are open—for example, at your sides with your palms facing the other person—it communicates that you’re accepting. While you’re at it, pivot to face the person head-on. This shows that you’re completely vulnerable, Salem says.
7. Nod at strangers on the street
Make eye contact with your fellow humans. Being acknowledged with a glance or a smile by passersby makes people feel connected, a study from Purdue University found. (On the flip side, looking through them—gazing at their eye level but not meeting their eyes—makes them feel ostracized.) In a world where most people are busy pretending there’s something interesting on their phones, you’ll stand out with just a nod.
8. Flash those pearly whites
It may seem like a no-brainer that smiling makes you look friendlier, but tell that to someone from Poland, where smiling at strangers is a sign of stupidity. And if you smile at people in Norway, they assume you’re drunk, crazy, or American. (Or all of the above.) The Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology found that in general, smiling people are seen as smarter. Your grin is especially safe in the U.S., Germany, and China.
An important caveat is that your smile must be genuine. “People can pick up a fake smile a mile away,” Salem says. “It comes quickly and vanishes quickly, and there’s a thinness at the lips.” So if you’re not feeling it, don’t fake it.
9. Respect the bubble
Leave a healthy space between you and your acquaintance—get too close, and you may be perceived as a threat. A study from the University of Toledo found that invading personal space causes people to sense that there may be impending violence. In the U.S., most people’s bubbles extend 10 to 20 inches from their body, Salem says. An easy rule of thumb: the closest you should get to someone is about the length from your elbow to your fingertips.
10. Be a chameleon
People like you more when you mimic their postures, movements, and mannerisms, research has shown. For example, take note if your boss tilts his head to one side, leans forward, or smiles, and do that. Make sure it’s not obvious, Salem says, or you might creep them out. “But if you do it subtly,” he says, “they feel like you are entering their world.”
11. Know when to shut up
Don’t be a one-upper responding to your buddy’s every statement with your own story. Scientists have a name for that—reciprocal self-disclosure—and it’s annoying. Research has shown that people who make empathetic statements are liked more than people who respond with their own stories. “The key is to ask thoughtful questions and resist the urge to jump in with our own comments and observations,” says Chris Malone, coauthor of The HUMAN Brand: How We Relate to People, Products & Companies. “Just listen, process, and then ask another thoughtful question.”
12. Don’t be a Debbie Downer
Negative thoughts about how others perceive you can be self-fulfilling, according to a study from the Netherlands. The researchers say that thinking people don’t like you can actually change your behavior and make you act unlikable. For example, you might avoid eye contact, stop listening, and gaze off into the distance—and who wants to hang out with a bump on a log?
13. Be you, bro
Good news: You’re perceived to be trustworthy just because you’re a guy, according to a new study from the University of Alabama. The researchers had people rate witnesses as they testified in court on a scale of 1 to 10 on likability, trustworthiness, confidence, and knowledge. The male witnesses received an average trustworthy score of 7.43, while the women’s was 6.70. (Men’s likability rating was higher, too, but not enough to be significant.) The researchers say it may have to do with men historically having more power and status than women. Just don’t use this fact in an argument with your girlfriend.