Body Language 34 Proximity

June 29, 2019

Have you ever been talking with another person from a different culture and had the distance between both of you cause you to be uncomfortable? It happens all the time to business people who deal with multiple cultures.

If you want to see how uncomfortable proximity can be, take a look at this hilarious two-minute clip of a Seinfeld episode. Just go to Youtube and search on “Close Talker.” It illustrates the issue perfectly.

Proximity rules between cultures

The rules for comfortable proximity are mostly governed by the home country of the people involved. The comfortable distance between you and another person is one thing for you and may be something very different for the other person. There are some general trends that will help you navigate this sticky part of body language successfully.

According to Sue Bryant in Country Navigator, “Contact cultures – southern European, Latin American and Arabian – engaged in more touching and stood closer during conversation than non-contact cultures in northern Europe, north America and parts of Asia.”

In the USA, most social conversation happens in the range of three to five feet. Conversation at a distance less than 18 inches is considered an invasion of a person’s “intimate” range. The “personal” range is 18-36 inches, while the “social” range is 3 to 12 feet.

Argentina is generally considered the most close proximity culture, whereas USA and Great Britain have more space between individuals when talking.

“Romanians clearly take longer to establish trust; they came out with the widest distance you should stand from a stranger – more than 1.3m – but one of the narrowest gaps for close friends…” (Bryant)

Staking out territory

Most creatures are territorial by nature. I have a bird that drives me crazy by pecking at my window. The bird sees its reflection and thinks it is an intruder.

Dogs have a unique way of marking their territory as they raise their leg next to a fire hydrant.

Humans are more subtle than animals, but we also have numerous territorial gestures.

You can observe a person sitting on the subway with brief case on the seat on one side and a newspaper on the seat on the other side. The message is “stay away, these seats are taken.”

Think about how you jockey for position when several lanes of traffic compress to just two when entering a tunnel or a tollbooth.

How about your behavior at the open buffet or waiting in line at the airport. We all have ways of indicating areas we claim and subtly suggest that others steer clear.

Greeting others

The normal ritual for greeting a person you are just meeting is to use a handshake. It is best to use the right hand only when meeting a person for the first time. Sometimes special situations call for fist bumping or other gestures.

A two-handed handshake is fine once you have become acquainted with a person, but it is far too presumptuous when first meeting someone.

Some people like to give a hug or “abrazo” as a cordial way to greet someone they already know. I think it is wise to use caution as the rules on hugging are becoming more restrictive. It is best to hold back until you see the other person extending his or her arms for a hug.

Sending Signals

We constantly send signals to other people about our desires relative to proximity. Normally, people are sensitive enough to pick up the signal and act appropriately; however, sometimes people are just clueless as to what is going on.

Many an individual has misinterpreted a signal as one to get closer only to be rejected later.

Misunderstandings can happen in any setting: business, social, formal, informal, in public, in private, and even within families. Be alert to the obvious and subtle signals from others about your proximity to them. Doing so can be good for your reputation and enhance your friendships.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Body Language 27 Sitting

May 11, 2019

You can determine a great deal about what a person is feeling by observing his or her sitting position.

As with all body language, you need to take into account cultural differences and also look for clusters of BL to be accurate with the reading.

Here are some tips that can give you some direction.

It is kind of difficult to discuss sitting BL without the impact of how the legs are configured. Let’s start out first with overall posture when sitting and finish up with some general rules about legs.

It is axiomatic that when you are sitting, you are sitting on something. It may be a bean bag chair, in which case you are nearly lying down, or a straight-backed chair with or without arms.

Keep in mind that except for sitting backwards on a chair (very rarely done) there is only one way to sit down. We sit with our butts in the back of the chair with our legs dangling over the front, because there is no practical way to unscrew our legs.

Steven Wright, one of my favorite comedians once asked, “What would a chair look like if your knees bent the other way?” That one always cracked me up.

The first thing to notice is how much slouch there is. A person sitting nearly upright in a chair sends a message of some formality. Some people are very aware of their posture and generally like to sit upright.

Alternatively, it could be the circumstance that calls for a high degree of formality. For example, during a job interview or performance appraisal most people will sit more upright than they would when in the break room listening to a coworker tell a joke.

Most individuals will lean back to some degree, and it becomes a variable to watch. If a person is fairly erect while sitting but becomes slouched over time, the person is showing fatigue or boredom. Also, a person who is experiencing back pain may elect to sit more upright to lower the pressure on the back.

A person squirming a lot in the chair may be nervous, or bored, or it could be just due to an uncomfortable chair. You need to look for other clues before assigning a cause for squirming.

If a person habitually slouches in a nearly horizontal position, it might be an indication of a poor attitude or a signal that the person is patiently waiting for something of note to happen. You might see this kind of posture in a waiting room at the hospital or at a train station, where people are waiting for the next train.

Sitting on the front edge of a chair can be a sign of anxiety and alertness. The person seated wants to be sure not to miss anything that is said or done. It could also be caused by a short person sitting in a chair that is too high so the feet do not touch the floor unless they sit on the edge.

Sitting with one or both legs draped over the arms of a chair is seldom seen in the working world, but it sometimes is evident in the home, especially with adolescents. The connotation is one of relaxation and non-conformity. The pose usually does not last long because it is often uncomfortable on the backs of the legs.

Below is a quick review of a prior article I wrote on crossing of legs.

Leg crossing for women

The most commonly seen leg cross for women is one leg resting on the other knee. This is known as the aristocratic leg cross. When both feet are on the floor, it is a sign of security, while the classic leg cross may be a sign of insecurity.

When women cross their legs at the ankle it is a sign that the woman is secure. It may also be an indication of modesty.

Leg crossing for men

Men generally use the figure four leg cross with the ankle of one leg resting on the opposite knee. Occasionally men will use the aristocratic leg cross, and it can be a sign of high status, as pointed out by Bill Acheson. Also, the aristocratic leg cross is more common in Europe than in the USA.

Link to the entire article on foot tapping and leg crossing.

Pay attention to the way people sit. There is often much information about how they are feeling at the moment. At the very least, you will have fun guessing what might be going on.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763