A classic bestselling book.
Why is this book so popular?
Because we are social beings.
We have a deep desire to connect with other people.
But our thoughts, patterns and often, shyness disrupts the smooth flow of building relationships. Especially when it comes to getting to know strangers.
How do you overcome this bias and make yourself more approachable?
How do you make it easy for people to approach you?
Luckily, researchers have shown that adjustments in clothing and behavior can make you appear less standoffish, cold and intimidating.
The findings are especially relevant if you are employed in a job that requires people to feel comfortable asking you for help.
The Experiment – How Librarians Can Be Approachable And Helpful
A group of researchers sought to uncover some factors that influence approachability in the field of library science. The research was conducted by a couple of library researchers.
The premise of their experiment was – a librarian that doesn't help people find what they're looking for is a lousy librarian. They were trying to determine what would make it more likely for someone to ask a librarian for help.
Librarians work best when library patrons feel they can ask questions. A librarian that seems closed-off, cold, or otherwise unapproachable can’t help people. If people can’t get the help they need at a library, they’ll likely seek their information from other sources such as the internet, friends or online databases.
They noticed that in previous research, clothing color, facial expressions, and formal attire all influence how approachable a person seems.
The researchers devised a study to test these factors on approachability…
- The researchers got 48 photographs of hypothetical librarians – people of various ethnicities, with various facial features, clothing, settings and both genders.
- Based on input from a group of students, 12 images were shortlisted. The researchers ensures a diversity of ethnicities, ages, both genders, etc.
- Half the selected photographs were male subjects, half were female.
- The age distribution was also even – half were young, the other half were older.
- Out of the 12 shortlisted photographs – 4 were White, 4 African American, and 4 Asian.
Each image was digitally manipulated to display the following variety of characteristics:
- Two photographs of the subject – a smiling version and a neutral version.
- Photographs with and without a nametag.
- A photograph with the subject in formal attire and the same person dressed in a plain shirt.
- The same face looking down at a computer, looking at a book and making eye-contact with the viewer.
- Three images of the subject dressed in a red, white and blue shirt.
No surprises – the researchers ended up with a HUGE number of photographs. There were 96 in total.
Then, the researchers got 1015 participants and divided them into two groups.
Each group got a random image from one of the image pairs (for instance: one group got a smiling version, some got a the neutral face) and the participants were given the following instructions:
Imagine you need to ask a librarian a question. Rate the approachability of this hypothetical librarian. 1 = least approachable, 10 = most approachable.
How To Improve Approachability – Results From The Experiment
The researchers compared the vast number of changed variables to see which factors mattered and in what ways to influence approachability.
The experimenters found the following factors increased a person's approachability:
1. Smile – Facial Expressions That Make You Look Friendly
This had the biggest impact of all factors. No matter what the librarian’s age, race, clothing, or behavior – smiling had a significant effect on the viewer.
Smiling improves approachability for everyone. The researchers found that smiling was the most powerful factor on approachability in the whole study.
A warm, inviting smile can put anyone at ease. It acts as a signal that you are open to an interaction. A fake smile, however, acts as a barrier. Make sure your eyes soften and your whole face breaks out in a wide smile.
Interactions with others are more enjoyable and easier when one or both people are smiling. A smile is contagious – making others feel better too and instantly making you more appealing and attractive.
2. Direct Your Gaze Towards People
When a librarian had their nose in a book or was staring at a computer screen, they were seen as less approachable. This effect was the same for people of all ages, races and gender.
People are much more likely to approach you when you look directly at them, than when you turn away or avoid their gaze. Prolonged eye contact along with a smile can make all the difference to break the ice between strangers.
If you are uncomfortable making direct eye contact with strangers – look at the bridge of their nose between the eyes instead of directly into the eyes. It will appear as though you are making direct eye contact without adding to your discomfort.
Averting your eyes, fidgeting, avoiding direct eye contact or appearing distracted all decrease your approachability.
3. Accessories Help Facilitate Conversation
In the experiment, the researchers found that having a nametag increased librarians’ approachability.
This was the same across all types, but not to the same degree. For instance, nametags increased approachability for younger people way more than older people.
But still, no matter who the image depicted, they were seen as more approachable if they were wearing a nametag.
After spending over a year conducting research into the matter, Starbucks decided that all of their baristas should wear name tags.
A nametag is an opening. You're giving people an easy conversation-starter. They will feel like they already know something about you.
This improves approachability. So in certain professions, having a nametag may be an appropriate way to increase approachability. However, this isn’t going to apply to all professions. A presidential candidate probably shouldn’t wear a nametag to increase approachability, for instance.
What works better for most men is wearing interesting accessories. A heirloom watch, for instance, is a conversation starter. An interesting pair of cufflinks, a boutonniere on your suit lapel, colorful socks – any of these would add instant appeal to your outfit and create a hook for someone to start a conversation with you.
4. Formal Clothing Makes Men More Approachable
If you’re a young man, don’t be afraid to dress up and look professional, smart and appropriate.
However, “overdressing” as a young man will likely decrease your approachability. By contrast, older men significantly benefit from more formal clothing when it comes to approachability.
Formal clothing improved approachability for men, but worsened approachability for women.
Formal clothing improved approachability for older people (men and women), but worsened approachability for younger people (men and women).
The researchers suggested this bias was related to societal stereotypes about men and women and older versus younger people.
The takeaway here is that older people wearing formal clothing are seen as more approachable than younger people wearing formal clothing.
5. Choose Cool Colors For Your Clothing
To appear more approachable, try blue, and to a lesser extent, white. Avoid red in your wardrobe.
Generally, blue was the most approachable color. It makes you appear trustworthy and reliable.
Red negatively impacted approachability across the board.
White was in-between. It was seen as less approachable compared to blue, but more than red.
The negative impact of red may have been due to red’s perceived connection to dominance, aggression, and danger.
Want 6 easy tips to approach anyone and have better conversations? Check out this article on how to boost your confidence.