When dogs meet each other, they race to each other's butts to sniff out the information they need to understand each other — and humans do the same thing, just without noses or butts, typically speaking. When humans interact, a massive data exchange happens without us even noticing; it's possible to subconsciously use body language that makes people like you, trust you, fear you or each the opposite, without any obvious explanation.
But there is an explanation, and it's evolutionary in nature. When we have an interaction with someone, our minds are sending and receiving data that's letting us know a few key things: Is this person a threat? Can I trust this person? What is this person's objective? During a surface, casual conversation that might occur on a street, in a parking lot, at a grocery store or with a co worker, we might not be consciously aware of what type of data is being exchanged.
Body language is one of the largest markers (conscious or subconscious) of said data. The way we stand, the facial expressions we use, the way we do or don't move our hands when we speak, the direction we lean towards and the way we direct eye contact is all loaded with information regarding our intentions, our level of fear and our comfort. So what are the types of body language that make people feel comfortable? Their own. People feel most comfortable interacting with a mirrored impression of themselves. Watch the (super funny) proof here:
While mirroring someone's gestures might be the easiest way to make them feel comfortable and connected with you, it might feel too calculated for you. There are other ways of making people feel comfortable around you, by just being aware of the way your expressions translate to others. Here are four different types body language indicators, how they work, and how they're perceived:
In a nutshell, we hold our arms low and close when we're feeling scared, angry or depressed and we hold them higher and with less restriction when we're excited or happy. If you want to make some one feel comfortable, let your arms be loose. Put the people around you at ease by allowing yourself to use your arms expressively while you talk and keep your arms uncrossed while you listen to let people know that you're feeling open to them.
The direction your lips tip towards is a huge mood indicator. The way we recognize happiness and lack of tension is when someone smiles with their whole face. This includes not just the direction of their lips but their eye lids, eyebrows, and cheek bones. A fake smile, which we're all familiar with, is a smile that does not reach the rest of the face. Typically lips stretch in a straight line, barely reaching upwards and the eyes, eyebrows and cheeks remain neutral. If you want to show someone that you're happy and interested, you make sure your whole face is reaching upward and your eyes are open and wide. If you purse your lips into a straight line or bite your lower lip with your teeth, you're giving off the impression that you're tense and anxious or uncomfortable.
You probably don't pay a lot of attention to your feet when you're talking to someone, and if you are that's probably an easy indicator for lack of interest. But the direction you point your toes when you're interacting with someone can indicate your intentions and level of comfort. When you're feeling positively engaged, unthreatened, or even aroused, your toes will naturally face the other person's toes. When you're feeling apprehensive or nervous, you might have one foot opened to the other person's and the other foot might be facing closed off. If you're feeling threatened or uninterested, your feet will avoid facing the other person's feet at all costs. This might include a subconscious torso twist to the side to avoid a head on position, leaving your vital organs openly exposed to your potential opponent.
With eye contact, it's all about balance. If you make too much eye contact, you might intimate or overwhelm the person you're speaking to, but if you don't make enough eye contact, you might come across as disinterested, ashamed or uncomfortable. So it's important to find a happy medium. Naturally, when we're interested in something, our pupils will dilate and we will increase our focus and direct eye contact. And when we're uncomfortable or threatened, our pupils will contract and we will attempt to break eye contact more frequently. In order to make the person you're speaking with comfortable, make confident eye contact, but be sure to punctuate it with breaks and blinks so as to note send the wrong message.