I'm fascinated by Proxemics, what on earth is that I hear you say... let me share it with you.
Anthropologist Edward T Hall introduced the term proxemics in 1966.
It is the study of a set measurable distance between people as they interact, with the idea that we follow three space boundaries according to the following delineations:
Body Language - Intimate distance
For embracing, touching or whispering less than 6 inches (15cm)
Body Language - Personal Distance
For interactions among good friends or family members 1.5 to 2.5 feet (46 to 76cm)
Body Language - Social Distance
For interactions among strangers
Close phase 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 m) acquaintances
Far phase 25 feet (7.6 m) or more
For example, a loved one we will allow to come into our private space completely; with friends, we will chat about an arm's width apart but we like to keep 25 feet away from strangers, space allowing.
If you and one other are in an art gallery, you will manage to look at the paintings whilst imperceptibly keeping 25 feet away from each other.
How weird would you think someone was if in that situation they came and stood right next to you.
Having an understanding of proxemics can be very valuable in your interactions with people.
Body Language - Networking Situations
In a Networking situation, it is easy to look at a room full of people standing in different groupings and determine which group would be easiest to join by how close they are standing to each other.
An intimate group will be very tight-knit and harder to break into, whereas a group who have just met will be much further apart and therefore easier to join.
Having an awareness of your own personal space boundaries can help you to be aware of other people's.
A lot of people will have had the uncomfortable experience of someone invading their space. Have you ever ended up being hemmed in by someone talking inches from your face!
Body Language - Cultural Differences
Hall also realised that different cultures maintain different standards of personal space.
In Latin cultures, for instance, those relative distances are smaller, and people tend to be more comfortable standing close to each other; in Nordic cultures the opposite is true.
When you are aware of these cultural differences it can improve cross-cultural understanding, and helps eliminate misunderstanding.
You realise why people are standing too close or that they are not being aloof by standing further away from you.
Comfortable personal distances are also affected by the social situation, the gender of the person you are talking to, and of course individual preferences.
Look around you today and watch the proxemics rules being applied, it's great fun.
Impact Factory runs tailored Communication Skills Programmes and Body Language Skills Courses for anyone who wants to improve their body language.
by Sara Jordon
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