Cross the boundaries at your own risk
By Carol Kinsey GomanAs a consultant andprofessional speaker, Ioften travel by myself andfrequently dine alone.This affords me theopportunity to combinetwo of my favorite pastimes:eating great food andwatching people.One night at dinner inan oceanside resort, I noticeda man and a woman seatedacross the room. It was a beautiful image and it caughtmy attention.The couple sat insilhouette, framed by alarge picture window, whilethe setting sun turned the background shades of yellow,orange, magenta and deeppurple.Then I began to observethe couple’s body language.During the course of themeal, I watched the man leantoward the woman – and sawher respond by pulling awayfrom him.He leaned toward heragain – and again she pulledaway. The more the manleaned forward, the more hisdinner companion would tilt back.By dessert, he was almostsprawled across the table andshe was practically falling off her chair.I couldn’t hear aword they weresaying, but itwas perfectlyobviousthat
hewas proposing– she wasn’tsigning on!He would have beenmuch more successfulif he had (literally) backed off.Last month Iwas reminded of that episode asI sat at anotherrestaurantwatching twomen at the bar.This time Iwas close enoughto overhear theirconversation, so I knew thatone man was in sales and theother was a potential client.
By the time they’d ﬁnished
their drinks, I also knew thedeal was dead. And it wasn’tanything that was said. In themidst of a normal “getting-to-know-you” conversation, Iwatched the salesman moveso close to his prospect thatthe client began, very slowly,to inch away.This went on for some
time, but ﬁnally the client
could stand it no longer. Heexcused himself to makea phone call – and left therestaurant shortly afterward.
One of the easiestmistakes to make during anencounter with someone is tomisjudge how much space theother person needs.Anthropologist EdwardHall coined the word“proxemics” to describephenomena like territoriality
among ofﬁce workers. Andit was he who ﬁrst noted theﬁve zones in which people
feel most comfortable dealingwith one another. (It’s as if we’re standing inside aninvisible bubble that expandsor contracts depending on ourrelationships.)
(0-18inches) is reserved forfamily and loved ones.Within this zone weembrace, touch or whisper.This close contact isappropriate only for verypersonal relationships.
(1.5-2 feet) is the“bubble” most people in