8 body language gestures that instantly put people at ease

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You picked the right words and did your best to communicate…so why is it that people still don’t feel like opening up to you? 

And worse, they even look tense!

You may not be aware of it, but more than what you say, HOW you say and do things sends a far bigger message. 

In other words, your body language may be getting in the way.

So if you’d like to build deeper connections by making people feel comfortable, here are 8 body language gestures that instantly put people at ease.

1) Mindful physical contact and respect of personal space

When it comes to body language, distance and proximity play a huge factor in terms of putting people at ease. 

It can feel like a tricky balance—too close and it’s annoying or threatening, too far and you feel disinterested and distant.

In studies of the human psyche, “Territory or personal space in the body language of communication is the space around a person that they claim to be their own.”

This is why when people who aren’t close to us put their arms across our shoulders, we can feel anywhere from uneasy to downright furious. 

On the other hand, closing the distance and making simple gestures like shaking hands or patting them on the shoulder can gesture towards friendship and affection. 

How to practice: 

Starting with an arm’s length away, try gradually moving closer to the other person as the conversation progresses.

If they step or lean back, pause for a few seconds and step back again.

2) Maintaining a soft open gaze

There’s a reason for the cliche that “the eyes are the window to the soul.”

For the size of the eyes in proportion to the rest of the body, it communicates so much about our thoughts and feelings!

A roll of the eye communicating annoyance or irritation.

Sleepy eyes conveying boredom or disinterest.

The way we look at others has a tremendous effect on our relationships with other people.

Biology makes us hardwired to feel anxious or threatened when fixed with a “hard gaze”—that penetrating, and piercing look that makes people want to either pick a fight or avoid you at all costs.

Give a soft gaze instead. It makes other people feel they will be treated with kindness and respect, and will not be judged.

How to practice:

Hold a hard gaze for 30 seconds and notice how the rest of your face feels— your jaw, your forehead, your mouth, your throat, and your neck. Then slowly shift to a soft open gaze. Feel the difference.

This will make you more aware of your gaze so that hopefully you can correct yourself when your gaze starts to get hard.

3) Keeping a genuine warm smile

A smile is like an invitation and positive psychology studies show that it instantly makes others feel at ease and creates a ripple effect of goodwill even with strangers. 

Scientific studies also show that when others smile at us, it activates the reward centers in our brain, and our body releases the feel good chemicals serotonin and endorphins.

But not all smiles are created equal. 

According to researchers, the “Duchenne” smile is “among the most influential of human expressions”.

It’s the smile where the corners of the eyes, and the corners of the lips lift up and convey the most authentic expression of happiness and signals that we are kind or helpful.

How to practice:

If you’re the kind of person who feels like you’re faking it everytime you smile, then just keep practicing.

It will feel fake at first but you’ll eventually get used to it. If you’re too self-conscious, shift the focus to the person in front of you instead of yourself.

4) Refrain from showing gestures that show you’re bored

Covering your mouth, touching your ears, tapping your fingers on the table, rubbing your eyes…

While you feel like these are meaningless gestures, it actually communicates a lot about your inner thoughts and feelings.

For instance, the “pain in the neck” could be interpreted as you finding someone annoying or frustrating, even when you just slept in the wrong spot.

Covering any part of your face, like your nose or mouth can also signal deception and may cause people not to trust you on a subconscious level.

Lightly resting your hand on your cheek with the index finger pointing upward is the only one that communicates attention and interest– but be careful that you don’t end up resting your head and chin on your hand, it communicates boredom.

How to practice:

Try your best to be more interested and patient. It will show in your body language.

If you show any kind of impatience, it will make people feel like you don’t like them, which will make them feel uneasy.

5) Leaning in slightly forward

When people are leaning back or away, it signals dislike or negativity because our limbic brain is hardwired to distance ourselves from things we find dangerous or unpleasant.

So how to put people at ease? Do we need a ruler for the distance?

Don’t worry, there’s a shortcut: Simply lean in slightly forward.

The body language of “leaning in” communicates being focused, attentive, and perceptive.

No matter the distance, leaning in slightly conveys interest, and serves as an invite into our personal space.

Say someone is delivering a presentation, leaning in conveys our positive attention while leaning back conveys we don’t care, feel lazy, or even secretly dislike them.

How to practice:

If you’re seated, instead of leaning back on your chair, move closer towards the end of your seat and tilt a not forward. 

You’ll know it is working if the person you are talking to feels more engaged to talk because research shows that  leaning in forward tends to increase the verbal output.

6) The art and science of mirroring

Mirroring, also known as the Gauchais Reaction, is when a person subconsciously mimics the gestures, the expressions, the voice quality, and even the attitude of the person they’re talking to. 

It’s when the other person touches their arm when you touch yours.

Or when you cross your legs when the other person crosses theirs.

You might think it’s coincidental, but it’s actually a psychological phenomenon.

Often this is done subconsciously and communicates either empathy, interest, or attraction—all prosocial behaviors that encourage interaction by making other people feel similar to us. 

According to the Berkeley Well-being Institute, the benefits of mirroring include building rapport and trust, increasing likeability, creating a sense of similarity and shared experience.

Mirroring also encourages us and other people to be more helpful. 

Overall, mirroring creates social bonds and connections.

How to practice:

Well, we can’t fake this. All you have to do is be more engaged.

But you can match the bigger gestures. While in a conversation, start by matching the posture and then their talking pace (fast or slow) and also the volume (soft or loud).

But remember to not match it all or to get so focused on copying that you aren’t listening to them.

7) Keep your arms and hands open and relaxed

Crossed arms and hands communicate various levels of being defensive, angry, disinterested or bored. 

Crossing our arms is an instinctive behavior from wanting to protect ourselves by putting a defensive barrier between others. 

That is why a study shows that “audience members with their arms crossed on average retain up to 35% less information from the speaker than those with their arms by their sides.” 

A closed fist signals repressed anger or frustration, while hand wringing conveys worry or being upset.

So even though it’s just a habit for you, studies call these ‘negative’ body language making other people feel ill at ease around you.

How to practice: 

Keep your hands in a neutral position below your waist unless you are making gestures. 

8) Nod in a cluster of threes and do the head tilt

Few things can be more encouraging than someone nodding while we are speaking.

When you nod in a cluster of threes at regular intervals, it signals your approval and openness to what the other person is saying. 

It says “I hear you, I’m interested, please keep going.”

On the other hand, the head tilt is a universal gesture of “lending your ear.”

Both body language gestures communicate your genuine interest and receptiveness to the person and what they are saying.

How to practice:

When you find an agreeable point while someone else is talking, do the cluster of three head nods.

You may also tilt your head to communicate your approval and agreement to the speaker.

Last words

Often, the unease and anxiety we trigger in others is caused by small things— an eye roll, a sigh, unresponsiveness.

By simply being mindful and practicing these eight body language gestures, you can build stronger positive connections.

Whether it’s with your family, at the workplace, or social circles, imagine a world where we all feel safe, calm and at peace around one another.

Without even saying a word, and with a few simple shifts, you can make life instantly better through the simple power of your body language.

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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