Behaving the right ways and sending the right signals plays a big role in our interpersonal and romantic relationships. In dating scenarios, the right body language can help you get noticed in online dating profiles, get the attention of a potential partner in real life, and nonverbal communication can make-or-break that first conversation too. In more established relationships, paying attention to specific behaviors can help you tell what your partner is feeling, build rapport through mimicry, and reestablish an emotional connection through eye contact as well.
Beyond these specific techniques though, there are also general categories for behavior in relationships too. Specifically, some behaviors communicate and built trust and rapport better, whereas others are more suited for building attraction. While a healthy mix of both are necessary for keeping a relationship running smoothly, knowing which signal you are sending with a specific behavior is important as well.
That is why I will share a comprehensive study of the research on that very topic below…
A Meta-Analysis of Interpersonal Attraction and Enacted Behavior
In a recent Psychological Bulletin article this month, Montoya, Kershaw, and Prosser (2018) conducted a meta-analysis and review of 54 articles on various behaviors and interpersonal attraction. Within these articles, the authors compared the impact of various behaviors on interpersonal perceptions and judgments. The results of their analysis indicate that different behaviors do indeed play very different roles in interpersonal attraction.
Specifically, some attractive behaviors function primarily through developing a feeling of trust and rapport with another person. Montoya, Kershaw, and Prosser (2018) note that making eye contact, smiling, laughter, and copying the behavior of others has this general effect. In fact, with these particular behaviors, there is often little difference between how we use them to connect with friends versus romantic partners.
Other behaviors relate more specifically to self-reported attraction. These were often more direct behaviors, such as getting into close physical proximity and talking in different contexts. Montoya, Kershaw, and Prosser (2018) noted that the effect of these direct behaviors was impacted by “threat salience” though. In other words, the more an individual feared rejection, the less likely they were to find these direct behaviors attractive in others too.
Behaving to Build Trust and Attraction
Given the results above, we can now categorize many of the interpersonal techniques and behaviors discussed in past articles…
To Build Trust: Use more indirect behaviors. Specifically, smile and make eye contact to let them know you are interested in interacting with them. Make more frequent and longer eye contact to convey greater interest as well. Selectively copy your partner’s behavior to increase their comfort and build more rapport too
To Build Attraction: Use more direct behaviors. Particularly, start a conversation and talk directly with your partner to build attraction. Pay attention to the topics of conversation that can spark passionate and romantic thoughts too. Beyond that, find ways to get close—and try to move from friendly to more romantic physical contact as well.
As the research above suggests, however, not everyone responds to more direct and bold behaviors the same way. If your partner (or potential partner) is more confident and secure, then you may be able to jump in more quickly with direct conversation and getting close. If they are more anxious, or sensitive to rejection, however, then you may need to be more indirect to start. In that case, initiate contact while being more aloof and stand-offish to start. Also, use your words to build rapport, instead of passion, too. That will help to build trust and allow them to become curious about you, rather than anxious. Then, you can build a more attractive and passionate interaction with them as well!
© 2018 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.