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Body Language in a Friendly Encounter

By: Libby Pelham BA - Updated: 7 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
Body Language Gestures Culture Handshake

Have you ever met someone for the first time and even though you may have only spoken a few words, for some reason that you couldn’t explain, you just don’t like them? It wasn’t anything they said or did and although you cannot quite put your finger on it, you somehow got the sense that the encounter didn’t go well.

Body language plays a big part in our perception of others, regardless of the words spoken. While our lips can lie, our body language rarely does. Whether we realise it or not, the minute we see someone, our minds start sizing them up subliminally, based on their body language alone. And in return, they size us up as well through the numerous body language gestures we may present.

Although we cannot control certain aspects of our body language, we can work on displaying certain types of positive, friendly body language for certain situations such as meeting a spouse’s parents or a job interview.

Personal Space

First of all, you must respect another’s personal space. If you get too close to someone too soon, he or she will probably be put off and the encounter has already started out on a bad note. As you come to know this person, you can move in closer if you are on friendly terms, but initially keep a safe, although not offensive distance between the two of you.


When you are meeting someone for the first time, whether you are in a casual or formal situation, it is always a nice gesture to extend your hand for a handshake. Keep the handshake firm, but not too tight. While shaking the other person’s hand, look them in the eye and smile. This tells them you are genuinely happy to meet them. People who are innately shy may tend to avoid both physical and eye contact with someone new, so they may have to practise this type of body language while it will come quite naturally to others.

Eye Contact

When conversing with someone, make eye contact. Don’t stare, but do maintain eye contact enough so they know you are listening and interested in what they are saying. Also leaning in slightly toward the person, turning towards him or her, and mirroring his or her body language is another friendly way of letting them know you are listening and interested in what they are saying. You may be inclined to turn slightly away from someone if you are timid, but the other person may see it as offensive.

If you can, try to pick up on the other person’s body language. For example, if they move back, you may be invading their personal space. If they aren’t making eye contact and are looking around, it may be time to end the conversation.

What to Avoid

There are, of course, body language gestures you should avoid during a friendly encounter. Folding your arms in front of you is a sign that you are closing yourself off and is often seen as rude. Fidgeting, such as tapping your fingers or foot, jingling change in your pocket, or chomping on gum is also considered rude. Slouching is not in good taste, so try to stand or sit straight up without looking uncomfortable.

Other Cultures

Finally, if you are meeting someone from another country, whether it is for business or personal reasons, try to read up on the acceptable body language of their country. For example, it is much more common for Turkish men to kiss on the cheek than shake hands when greeting each other. Reading up on the appropriate body language of other cultures will keep you from inadvertently offending someone.

You can’t learn how to change your natural body language, but you can learn what body language is considered acceptable in a friendly setting. It may take a little bit of practice, but it is worth it to make a good impression and keep from accidentally offending someone.

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