The Secret Behaviors That Make People Likable
How to impress others in initial encounters.
Posted March 15, 2023 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
- Both “agentic” (e.g., confidence) and “communal” (e.g., warmth) behaviors lead to greater likability when meeting strangers.
- Communal behaviors cause others to want to get to know us better.
- Being nonverbally pleasant and displaying positive affect are good body language strategies for increasing liking from strangers.
We meet someone — a stranger – and we immediately form an impression of that person. Often, we make a snap decision: “I like that person,” or “I really don’t care for them.” This important initial judgment can affect not only how we feel about the person, but whether we continue to interact with them, whether we want to develop a friendship or dating relationship, or, in the case of a hiring interview, whether the person gets the job.
Social psychological research suggests that there are certain behaviors that can strongly affect our initial impressions of strangers. In one study (Dufner & Krause, 2023), unacquainted young adults met in small groups and then spent a short amount of time interacting with each group member one-on-one. After each meeting, they rated how likable they found each stranger — whether they would like to get to know them and become friends with them. Trained observers watched each interaction and coded them for “agentic” and “communal” behaviors. Agentic behaviors are those that show confidence, dominance, and are slightly boastful. Communal behaviors include being polite, warm, friendly, and benevolent.
As far as initial likability, strangers who displayed high levels of both agentic and communal behaviors were better liked. However, when it came to establishing a deeper connection, it was only the communal behavior that predicted whether people wanted to form a friendship with the stranger. This makes sense. In an initial encounter, we may be impressed with people who are confident and proud/boastful. An air of confidence can increase liking. On the other hand, communal behavior – being warm, friendly, and polite – is strongly appealing and we want to get to know people better if they are warm, friendly, and seem to care.
Nonverbal Cues of Likability
In our own research, we found that in initial encounters with strangers, expressive body language led to greater liking. However, we also found a sex difference, such that men who were expressive with their bodies via posture and head movements were better liked, while women who were expressive with their facial expressions were most liked (Riggio & Friedman, 1986). We also found that nonverbally expressive people were better liked, and perceived as more attractive potential dating partners (Riggio, Widaman, Tucker, & Salinas, 1991).
So, what should someone do to increase their likability when meeting strangers? Try your best to appear warm and friendly, but it is also important to bring expressive energy to the encounter. Show that you are interested. Exude positive affect/emotions and a slight air of confidence. Demonstrate that you care about the other person by being a good listener. Let people know something about you, and show that you are proud of the positive things that you have accomplished.
Dufner, M., & Krause, S. (2023). On How to Be Liked in First Encounters: The Effects of Agentic and Communal Behaviors on Popularity and Unique Liking. Psychological Science, 09567976221147258.
Friedman, H. S., Riggio, R. E., & Casella, D. F. (1988). Nonverbal skill, personal charisma, and initial attraction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14(1), 203-211.
Riggio, R. E., & Friedman, H. S. (1986). Impression formation: The role of expressive behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 50(2), 421.