The Social Contagion Phenomenon

How Do You Want to Infect People?

By: Veronica Pistek

A man confidently shaking hands with a colleague. (Credit:

We have all had our fair share of awkward moments, especially when making a first impression upon a stranger.

Some get nervous and tense up, crossing their arms and avoiding eye contact. There are also “naturals” who exude bright energy and friendliness with each new encounter.

Despite which impression one creates, as humans, we naturally infect others with our non-verbal, verbal and emotional tendencies.

What if I told you that we can physically and psychologically catch emotions?

Emotions such as anxiety, sadness and even confidence can be detected subconsciously and equated into someone’s first impression.

Without even saying the first line, one’s body language is a nonverbal cue that determines whether they are open or closed-off.

For instance, approaching a stranger with folded arms, non-visible hands, eyes down and distraction somewhere else immediately tells the stranger that one is not available for conversation.

On the other hand, if one stands tall, has their hands visible and open, eyes ready for engagement, focus on the stranger and especially express a genuine smile, immediately the stranger becomes infected by your friendly contagion.

Just by opening your body and not your mouth, you become more likable and memorable.

While we usually get so caught up in “what should I say?”, we should focus on simplicity and how we say our primary line.

Picture this: you are tense already and start sweating about making a good first impression, so you think of a complex or clever introduction that results with stuttering on the first word.

It is known widely that if we keep it simple with a nice “Hey, how are you?”, one is more likely to feel invited and comfortable around you.

Even so, it is less likely that one will mess up and get anxious if the introduction is kept as simple as possible!

Just as important as your phrase is, your handshake also makes quite the impact.

The first physical touch with someone creates an immediate bond, and ultimately a more positive impression of you.

Consequently, you should reinforce a firm handshake with dry hands, paired with a bright smile and comfortable eye contact.

All of these non-verbal cues strengthen your internal confidence and release the desire for the other person to be comfortable and confident as well.

Naturally, as humans we love to be liked. A main way of gaining the friendships we have start by engaging in the right conversations.

It is common to ask someone how their day is going, which could possibly result in a response that is tied to negative events.

However, if we asked someone simply: “Anything good happen to you today?”, the person’s brain will only focus on positive events and thoughts, resulting in an overall happy mood and enthusiastic conversation.

Ultimately, this one basic question spreads your energy by infecting the person you are speaking with happiness and triggering an optimistic contagion.

Seemingly, these positive effects happen easier than you think. Your one genuine smile and the brief touch of your hand subconsciously make an enduring impact upon the person you are engaging with.

More importantly, remember that you create the future of your relationships.

Your expressive emotions verbally and non-verbally, as well as choice of conversation make a lasting impact far past your first impression.

Hopefully, you can utilize these tips in a positive aspect, directing your energy and conversations toward an optimistic direction.

As a result, you will become a more likeable human being. You will become more memorable than you expect.

You will infect others and yourself with confidence and happiness.

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