Nonverbal communication is very important in flirting, dating, and relating to others. Yes, words are important, but body language is also an essential component of solid social skills. Knowing how to move, stand, and position yourself is vital to your success in attracting a partner, flirting with them, and successfully getting a date. In addition, the match between your nonverbal communication and verbal request may mean the difference between finding love – and dinner alone.
Body Language, Congruence, and Influence Research
When approaching a potential date, chatting, or making a date request, your behavior has to match the words coming out of your mouth. This is sometimes known as “congruence”. To be attractive and influential, your words and actions must be congruent. Both have to be sending the same message.
The importance of this match between verbal persuasion and nonverbal communication is supported by research from Fennis and Stel (2011). The authors were interested in figuring out what types of body language would increase the success of various compliance strategies. In other words, what types of body language led others to answer “yes”.
Unfortunately, as many of you may have experienced, getting a yes can be challenging. Sometimes people are hesitant to meet you, busy, or disinterested. On other occasions they are open, eager, and interested. In psychological terms, these different perspectives of interest and disinterest are called “regulatory focus” (Higgins, 1998). There are two types:
- Promotion focus – where people are open, willing, and looking for positive, rewarding experiences.
- Prevention focus – where people are “on guard”, concerned, cautious, and vigilant.
Fortunately, Fennis and Stel (2011) took this problem into consideration. They found that requests were more successful when individuals tailored their body language to the regulatory focus of the other person. In other words, when trying to persuade someone with a cautious “prevention focus”, it is better to use reserved and quiet body language of your own (what they called vigilant nonverbal style). In contrast, speaking to and persuading someone with an open “promotion focus” requires more eager and positive body language (which they labeled an eager nonverbal style).
Correct Body Language for Flirting and Dating
Throughout the course of approaching, meeting, and attracting a partner, the regulatory focus of that partner is going to change. For example, when you first meet a potential partner, they are likely to be vigilant and cautious of you as a stranger (they will have a prevention focus). So, your first persuasion strategies will be centered around making them comfortable, getting them to like you, and getting their “guard down”.
Later in the relationship, after “safety” and “liking” are established, the relationship can be moved forward. The potential partner usually feels safer and more adventurous at this point (signaling a shift to a promotion focus). Essentially, they transition to the idea of “what good things can I get from this”, from worrying about “what bad things can happen here”. At that point, requests for dates, phone numbers, and further courtship becomes much more likely.
So, in the beginning of a social interaction with a new partner (e.g. a meeting, approach, etc.), remember that they are most likely cautious (prevention focused). According to the research above, this requires a “vigilant nonverbal style”. Fennis and Stel (2011) define this as:
- Using precise and small gestures.
- Slower movements and speech.
- Backward-leaning posture (leaning away from the other person, rather than forward and crowding them).
Essentially, this means using body language that is a little “stand-offish”, quiet, calm, and non-threatening at first. Remember, you are a stranger. So, in the beginning, give your potential partner some personal space, lean back a bit, keep your hands from flailing, and smile warmly. This will support your verbal persuasion efforts to make them feel comfortable and like you.
You will know you’ve “won them over” when your partner’s body language begins to change. His/her shoulders will relax. They will lean in to you more, make more eye contact, and smile. They will start to “open up”. At this point, they have switched to a promotion focus. Therefore, it is now time for you to switch to an “eager nonverbal style”, defined as:
- Using more animated, open and broad gestures.
- Faster and energetic movements and speech.
- Forward-leaning body posture (conveying interest and excitement).
Now that you are no longer a “threat”, you can convey your interest and excitement through body language. In fact, you should. No one is going to get excited about a date request from a guy with slumped shoulders and hang-dog head. Similarly, a woman with chin up, chest out, and animated personality is much more alluring. So, once you’ve broken the ice, amp up your eager nonverbal style – flirt, make a lasting impression, and ask for that date!
What you don’t say matters. It also changes throughout the course of a dating interaction. Stay calm and lean back in the beginning to persuade your partner that you are safe, trustworthy, and likable. Lean in and get more energetic once you’ve earned their trust, to motivate them to become excited about the prospect of seeing you again. Add these body language tricks to your social skills – and flirting, dating, and relating will become much easier.
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Until next time…happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor
- Fennis, B. M. & Stel, M. (2011). The pantomime of persuasion: Fit between nonverbal communication and influence strategies. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(4), 806-810.
- Higgins, E. T. (1998). Promotion and prevention: Regulatory focus as a motivational principle. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 30. (pp. 1-46), New York: Academic Press.
Photo: In Perfect Congruence by Malias at Flickr.com
© 2011-2012 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.