Nonverbal Communication Proxemics
E.T. Hall coined the term “proxemics” during his studies of interpersonal relationships between two people and the interactions associated with those relationships. Nonverbal communication proxemics is defined as, “the study of man’s transactions as he perceives and uses intimate, personal, social, and public space in various settings”.
Basically he is telling us that everyone uses different distances for all the different situations we find ourselves in throughout our life.
There are many things that affect nonverbal communication proxemics such as, two people who are in a relationship with each other stand closer to each other than those who are not in a relationship with one another. This is due to the attraction they feel. Attraction brings people closer together.
There are four distances people will almost subconsciously place themselves when confronted with another person. The first one is called the intimate distance. Average intimate distance is between 0 – 18 inches. Two people in a relationship have no problem with this distance because this distance connotes there is plenty of trust and love in the relationship.
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Conversely, two people who do not know each other will experience a certain level of discomfort, agitation, or anxiety if forced to be this close to one another like on a bus or in an elevator. We can all feel some discomfort or agitation if someone we do not know enters our personal space. Visual details and smells within this space can be overpowering.
In America, we consider our personal space to be between 18 inches to four feet. Depending on the situation, the comfort zone may be more or less but usually falls within the 18 inches to four feet range. You will probably only feel discomfort if someone else within this space tries to touch you.
The next distance is called social distance and this space extends from 4 to 12 feet. Used in business and most formal situations, communication within this space gets a little more difficult. Unlike with the intimate distance, you will still notice visual details and smells but they will not overpower you. You feel less discomfort, agitation, or anxiety as the distances get wider.
Lastly, we have the public distance which starts at 12 feet and extends as far as it needs to from there. At this distance you have enough space to adequately form a perimeter of defense if need be. To communicate effectively from this distance, you will need to use a microphone or at least speak loudly for your audience to hear you effectively. This is the type of distance you would find at a speaking event or something like that.
Nonverbal communication proxemics is all about maintaining adequate space in all sorts of interpersonal relationships. It is a simple concept and now you know why you get upset when someone you do not know gets too close to you. E. T. Hall has given you the information you need to understanding intimate space, social distance, and public distance and the differences between them. Try it for yourself if you want to figure out what distances are good for you and how close you can let someone get before you feel any uneasiness.
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