The old adage holds true: actions do speak louder than words. When you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s not what you say but how you act that matters most. There’s a bulk of cumulative research to suggest that body language cues—like where you put your hands, or how long you hold eye contact—speak volumes about who you are and what people think of you. So, it might help to learn the pitfalls.
Herein, we’ve rounded up the most major body language goofs most people make on the daily, an expert-curated compendium of silent, subconscious ticks to avoid at all costs. If you’re ready to ditch the bad habits and charm the socks off everyone you meet, start here.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make during a first encounter is raising your chin higher than it would be in a normal conversation. According to Janine Driver, president of the Body Language Institute, a raised chin implies a certain smugness that can make others think that you’re full of yourself—even if you aren’t. Take Hillary Clinton in the second general election debate of 2016, for instance. When faced with criticism by Donald Trump, she laughed and raised her chin, which Driver says made it appear as though she thought that she was superior to him. Don’t make Clinton’s mistake in your encounters.
According to Forbes, a weak handshake only communicates, well, weakness. To make sure your handshake impresses everyone you meet, ensure that your body is facing toward the person whose hand you’re shaking, and avoid making the embrace too firm by placing your hand over the other person’s hand to give yourself more control over the encounter. This extra hand also emotes friendliness, which is not a bad defining characteristic to a first impression.
Whether it’s a rather stressful first meeting with a potential employer or first date, or even if you’re simply just uncomfortable around new people, you’ll find that more of your first impressions are successful when you train yourself to remain calm and composed, says entrepreneur Andrew Thomas. Constant fidgeting communicates to the other person that you’re either afraid or impatient—two things that will, in fact, leave a bad first impression.
If you’re not already aware of this body language mishap, then we’re about to clue you in: crossed arms only make others feel that you’re either distrusting or defensive. Not only that, but it tells others that you’re not open to communication, according to Dr. Travis Bradberry, a clinical psychologist who’s spent years analyzing body language. If you’re signaling that you’re not open to speaking with someone new, then they will just move on to the next interaction without blinking.
Similar to crossing your arms, crossing your legs can be mean that you are hesitant to put yourself out there—and even shy, according to Minda Zetlin, author of The Geek Gap. Keeping your legs uncrossed is your safest bet if you want to be seen as confident and comfortable. More than anything, again, keeping your arms and legs uncrossed tells the other person that you’re open to communicating with them and not at all guarded.
Unless you’re on a first date, you should do your best not to invade the other people’s territory, as that will only make them uncomfortable at your lack of boundaries. (And even on a first date, only get close when it’s crystal clear it’s okay.) In fact, according to reporting in Real Simple, these lack of boundaries may even communicate that you’re desperate for new friends or that you may feel the need to push the boundaries even further in the future. In short: don’t creep out your future friend or boss or employee—or whomever!
Leaning back in your chair is such a negative form of body language that many experts suggest ending meetings early if they spot most of the team doing this. When you lean back in your chair during any form of interaction, it shows that you’re completely bored. Evan Thompson, the founder of Evan Thompson & Associates, a leading communications firm, suggests sitting up straight and leaning slightly forward to show your continued interest in the subject at hand—even if it’s a faked interest.
When you’re standing around talking to somebody with free hands, it might feel instinctual to stash them out of your pockets. Similar to fidgeting, we want to give our extremities a constant purpose, even if it’s a distracting one. According to Anita Barbee, a professor of social work at University of Louisville, Kentucky, shoving your hands in your pockets may make others feel as though you’re trying to hide something or that you’re secretive. So, if you feel as though you have nothing to hide, keep your hands out of your pockets and let them naturally hang by your sides.
When you first meet someone, a smile, accompanied by a friendly handshake, seems to be the norm, correct? There’s a reason why we smile when we meet someone new—it lets the other person know that we’re genuinely pleased to meet them. In fact, according to e-commerce entrepreneur Tom Popomaronis, a smile triggers mirror neurons in the other person’s brain that makes them want to mimic the smiler’s actions and smile as well.