A Word On First Impressions—And Walking The Walk

• Dr. Jack Schafer’s friendship formula states that people build connections when they are in proximity to one another, when their interactions are frequent and long in duration, and when both parties get their needs met.

• Schafer’s theory can be applied to flirting, especially in contexts where the three-part flirting process wouldn’t be appropriate.

• Whichever approach you use (short-term flirting or longer-term connection-building) remember to go step by step, building gradually on pervious connection, and adjust your approach carefully based on how you’re being received.

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Okay, so we know it’s good to approach women from the front and men from the side, and it’s good to smile, and it’s good to use your facial expressions strategically during the “approach” part of the flirting process. However, there’s a factor you might not have considered when it comes to approaching a new person for the first time: the way you walk. Fascinating research is continually uncovering all the tiny bits of data people perceive (even unconsciously) and analyze in a split second to make a judgment about the people in front of them.

If you’ve ever secretly wondered whether pickup lines make absolutely no difference, well, you may be right. Some studies have found that even before you approach someone, they are able to generate lasting first impressions about the kind of person you are—and people may make snap decisions long before you even open your mouth. These automatic assessments are made on such tiny amounts of data that even a single photograph has most people making personality judgments.

Yes, our facial expression, accent, voice, and the words we’re saying are all important, but the way we carry our bodies in space is in many ways the most easily observable trait—especially from a distance. If you’ve ever seen someone in a bar make an approach to someone and be instantly shut down even before they say a word, you can be sure it had something to do with the literal walk on the way over. It doesn’t seem entirely fair to make such a snap judgment on gait alone, but remember that this is the power of intuition and animal impulse—it’s fast and it’s decisive, and there’s no arguing with it!

A 2012 study in the journal Cognition published findings that suggest that people can make pretty quick judgments about others based on an astonishingly small amount of visual data and “motion components.” Based on very tiny perceptions of the way a body moves—for example, through style of walking (or gait)—people were able to form impressions about a stranger’s personality traits.

A 2019 study by Fink et. al. in Biology Letters explains how women are able to accurately assess a man’s physical strength by watching his gait, with strong walkers assessed as more attractive—however, this is not universal and varies depending on culture. Another study by Nicolas Guéguen in the journal Gait and Posture explored how women who are ovulating (and therefore more fertile) may unconsciously walk more slowly and in a way that observers rate as sexier. First impressions about who you are can greatly impact how attractive you seem to others—so it would be wise to make sure you’re making the best first impression possible!

How do you do that? First of all, it’s important to remember that many of these judgments have evolved over millions of years and are for the most part unconscious, intuitive and automatic. We’re talking about snap decisions about another person’s sexual fitness based on very primal perceptions, here. In other words, you can’t really fake it.

Have you ever heard people say something like, “I get that he/she is good looking, but they do absolutely nothing for me”? That’s because when people assess you on a biological level, any rational or cultural assessments don’t really matter—either the chemistry is there or it isn’t.

If you want to improve how you come across to the opposite sex, focus on how your entire body is presented. An upright posture usually signals to people that you are confident and self-assured, because people who are comfortable in themselves hold themselves (literally) in high regard. But if you adopt an upright posture, you can convince others and yourself that you are more confident than you perhaps feel. Standing up straight will help, but at the same time consider all the ways you can boost your confidence so that you are naturally standing taller—doing so will mean you are not acting like someone who is attractive, you are someone who is attractive.

Similarly, be mindful of how you walk and hold yourself in space. Don’t rush or fidget, and be aware of tensions in your muscles. Before you socialize or have a conversation, take a moment to consciously relax and release your breath, drop your shoulders, lift your chin, and relax your jaw. People who are calm and sure of themselves are automatically more attractive.

Finally, be more aware of not just your posture, but how you move in space. The best way to have more physical presence? Exercise. Being strong, healthy, and fit from within will broadcast to others (even if only on an unconscious level) that you are capable, disciplined, healthy, and vibrant. If you are comfortable in your skin, it shows.

If you have difficulty with being awkward or clumsy, you may find that practicing any dance form or even a martial art will help you strengthen your mind-body connection, and the small changes this makes to your physiology will be noticeable to others. Try yoga, calisthenics, sports, or anything that gets your body feeling strong and healthy. Then, you’ll find yourself naturally more “embodied,” more confident and more at ease in yourself. Even if you never say a word, you can communicate to others that you may be disconnected from your body, uncomfortable with yourself, or unhealthy in some way. Relationships and dating come down to sex and sexual attractiveness, and that comes down to what bodies think of other bodies. The best way to make a first impression is to think carefully—what message might your body be sending long before you open your mouth to speak?

The Friendship Formula and How to Use It

Dr. Jack Schafer is a retired FBI agent who once worked on the National Security Behavioral Analysis Program. What does he have to do with becoming a better flirt? Well, according to Schafer, people tend to like one another and classify one another as friends when four specific aspects are in place. The “friendship formula” goes like this:

Friendship = Proximity + Frequency + Duration + Intensity.

Let’s break it down to see what he meant. We’re all going about our lives constantly scanning the environment and the people in it, deciding, consciously or unconsciously, who is friend or foe and who to approach or avoid. We tend to make this appraisal based on the above four factors.

Proximity means how close you are to someone. This can mean physical proximity (i.e., you share a house with a roommate and you see them every day) or it can mean contextual closeness or simply feeling that a person is always “there” somehow. Frequency is how often you encounter one another. In school, where you met with your friends every single weekday and probably on the weekends too, you might have formed friendships ultra-quickly, whereas your friendships took ages to get off the ground since you had to make do with meeting up once every few weeks or months.

Duration matters, too—longer interactions tend to create more familiarity and friendship feelings than fleeting ones. Finally, intensity is about the degree to which you satisfy the other person’s needs by spending time with them. This really depends on the kind of interaction, the people involved, and the needs in question. If you’ve ever complained of missing out on quality time with your partner or get bored with shallow friends, you might have experienced low intensity, i.e., your needs for connection were not really being met.

So, what does all of this mean for the flirting game?

The above four aspects are naturally found when people are in that warm fuzzy getting-to-know-you phase, but you can engineer those positive feelings yourself. If you’re aware of the fact that people are always scanning their environment to judge people friend or foe, and you know how they’re making those judgments, then you can position yourself strategically.

Step 1: Start with proximity. If you’re interested in someone as a friend or more, just begin by being around them more. Importantly, don’t begin with increasing intensity—someone who is coming on strong from out of the blue is likely to be perceived only as a threat or irritation. Don’t be pushy or weird about it, but keep things light and casual. Simply try to figure out ways you can naturally and comfortably be around them more. Establish yourself as part of the furniture, basically.

Step 2: Now you can increase the duration and frequency of interactions. Take it slow and don’t barge ahead with some idea of how the interaction should go, but take your cue from the other person.

Step 3: Only once you’re regularly interacting with this person should you attempt to dial up the intensity. This is where interactions cross over into friendship and deeper connections. Here, you start to really understand one another, and your interactions prove mutually beneficial, i.e., you both find your respective needs satisfied.

The flirting formula of approach, synchronize, and touch works better for short-term interactions—like when you’re in a bar or on a promising first date. In these contexts, there is already the shared understanding that romantic possibility exists, so people are likely to be receptive to you making a move. However, many people have learned the hard way that trying some of these techniques in the wrong context is liable to get pretty embarrassing results. Randomly flirting with people while they’re at the store, at work or on the street? Hopefully the friendship formula shows you why diving in with intensity right off the bat will probably only lead to defensiveness or a flat out rejection.

Use the three-step flirting process if you have some reason to believe the other person will be open and receptive to it—for example, they’re in a noisy club, on a dating app, or have indeed made the first move themselves. Use the flirting process if you don’t have much time and want to make a connection quickly, based primarily on catching attention and building attraction.

Use the friendship formula if you’re looking for more than a hookup and want to build the foundations of what could become a genuine relationship. You could gradually ramp up proximity, frequency, duration, and intensity, and then seal the deal by flirting. Whatever your approach, though, remember that when you’re closing the distance between you and someone you’re interested in, a few golden rules always apply:

• Go step by step and build a connection gradually (if not, you may be perceived as threatening, disrespectful, or too intense)

• Note how you’re being received and adjust accordingly (if not, you can come across as selfish or unempathetic)

Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/social-skills-shownotes

Learn more or get a free mini-book on conversation tactics at https://bit.ly/pkconsulting

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