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Distance and space
'How we guard our personal space boundaries and how we enter into the others' personal space, is integrally connected with the way we are related with other people'.
It is important for people to have their ‘own space'. The position someone prefers and all the things he does to appropriate the space around him says something about that person.
Is a visitor at a birthday party sitting between other people or does he sit somewhere separate? With whom is he sitting together? And is his place situated in the middle of a group or on the periphery? How much space between himself and others does this person create? Is he facing the door, the window or does he sit towards other people in the room?
Another aspect of space is the way people fit op their home to make it a place of their own.
If you watch someone's home on the inside, this tells you a lot about that person. How is the personal space divided? Are the rooms very full with material objects or empty? How much space (territory) do you think this person needs?
Distance during interaction
The mutual distances people choose during interactions have several goals. Distance plays a role in signaling the beginning and the end of a conversation. It also signals something about how intimate and how personal we experience the relationship and the topic of discussion. The appropriate use of distance between talking partners is regulated by quite a lot of (unwritten) social rules and cultural norms.
The physical distance we keep from others and our reaction to how other people approach us, have a big influence on our discussions and the accompanying connections with these people. The amount of personal space we appreciate is strongly influenced by our culture. This also counts for the mutual distance in wich we feel confident during an business meeting.
If somebody comes closer to us than we are used to, invading our personal space, he can give us an uneasy feeling. We feel inclined to take a step backward to establish the original personal space with which we are comfortable again.
In general, people need a certain amount of personal space to feel optimally o.k. This also indicates our wish to trace out our personal territory. When we are not at home we sometimes make a kind of temporary territory - a temporary space wich we secure with our personal belongings. In this way we create a kind of personal air bubble around us. Who enters in there without being invited can count on a rejecting or angry response.
Edward Hall, an American antropologist, has divided interpersonal space into four zones:
- The intimate zone (0 - 45 cm)
- The personal zone (45 - 120 cm)
- The social zone (120 - 360 cm)
- The public zone (360 - 750 cm or more)
text: Frank van Marwijk
© Bodycom Lichaamscommunicatie, The Netherlands
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