The Scientific Portal of Behavior, Body Language and Nonverbal Communication#

Search for

November 26, 2011

Reading Body Language - Proxemics

During Golden Globe Award Ceremony of 2016, an unusual incident happened. After her name being announced as a receiver of an award, the famous American singer Lady Gaga started walking towards stage. While making her way through audience, she briefly brushed off behind the chair on which the famous Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio was sitting.

While reacting to the same quite spontaneously, viscerally and unconsciously, his unique facial expression and nose touching made the headlines all around the globe and several YouTube clips were published. Why he would have done it after all? Let's find out very reason behind the same.

In last two articles, we have seen that how clustering and congruence are crucial for reading body language. Now let's move on towards understanding the importance of interpersonal distance which is called as PROXEMICS. It is the study of human use of space and the effects that population density has on behavior, communication and social interactions.

Wars are fought over a piece of land but most of us really don’t realize that the interpersonal distance or physical space between any two individuals plays a great role in and also affects stress level, hostility, aggression, comfort level and overall relationship. Interpersonal distance becomes critically important while encountering or meeting a complete stranger. So let's take an example from the real life so it would make sense very clearly.

It's an usual day in the company and you start working on routine tasks. Suddenly, team leader informs you that few newly recruited members are joining your team. You are asked to gather at some place for getting formally introduced with them face to face. Until this moment both parties might not have seen each other so little amount of nervousness coupled with excitement lurks inside everyone's mind.

While looking at each other, both parties smile nervously but avoid prolong eye contact except those who develop the feelings of physical attraction for each other instantaneously. Formal hand shake, mutual introduction and exchanging a few words take place by keeping socially accepted distance from each other. Even, the team or group leader keeps socially accepted distance from the new joiner.

At the beginning, getting face to face is filled with uneasiness and anxiety. Glancing at either side of own body, looking down, hovering gaze, putting hands in pocket, giving nervous look or smile, grabbing things in palms, moving torso away or crossing arms over chest can be observed being done unconsciously by both parties.

They don't come close to each other or interact voluntarily like seniors or more experienced colleagues do among themselves. An accidental touch and trespassing is regretted and asked felt sorry for. Also, the new joiners form their own group despite of unfamiliarity among themselves.

A few days pass and regular work-related interactions start taking place between you and new joiners. Apart from work, everybody starts talking, sharing and complementing with each others irrespective of tenure in the company. It gives opportunity of judging, profiling and knowing each other consciously or unconsciously.

Although it's not precise, we naturally tend to figure out mutual strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Also, it's not at all necessary and obligatory that every junior member of a team become close companion of every other senior. Some subconscious needs, reservations, biases, orientations and/or complexes motivate us to form a bond with more like minded persons.

Initial awkwardness, shyness, nervousness gradually fades away day after days and diminishes completed. Interactions start happening at close distance as compared to earlier days. Touching, seating or standing closer, eating together, whispering, handling personal stuff or a prolonged eye contact becomes normal.

Everybody starts looking at faces and into the eyes of each other quite comfortably. Postures of two interacting persons become quite grounded, firm and relaxed. Strong rapport is established among new joiners and senior team members over the time. Meeting and greeting each other brings excitement and freshness at workspace.

Doesn't it appear like a miracle? Gradual shrinking of interpersonal space and development of new relationship! Why we tend to stay away from new people in the beginning and get closer gradually (or in worst case - drift away)? Certainly, it's really worth interesting and enlightening to know in the first place.

Interpersonal space or distance between two individuals is crucial factor for judging that if other person or object is in favor of our survival interests. It's the core mechanism of our subconscious mind of gathering visual clues and deciding to move towards it, let it to move towards ourselves or step back and run away from it.

When the space required to watch (hear and smell too) others and decide the strategy is intruded, invaded or trespassed with unknown intentions (by strangers), we feel very uncomfortable, challenged, dominated, offended or stressed. Limbic system starts sending flight or fight signals to the body.

Coming Up Close and Nose to Nose: North Americans Vs Gulf Arabs
American men challenge to fight and Arab men kiss with noses.

Basically, there are only reasons to invade or intrude the personal and/or intimate zones i. e. either to attack and harm somebody or to get intimate with somebody. Hence, lesser the physical distance remains between any two individuals, more both of them expect non-offense, courtesy and carefulness. Otherwise, they try to fight or run away (flight) for their own safety.

Until we don't spend enough time in observing and judging the level of hostility, degree of harmfulness, intentions, motives and temperament of the other person, we don't want to allow it to come closer with ourselves. Until we don't judge anything or anybody as harmless, we want to keep a safe distance with the same.

Edward T. Hall, the cultural anthropologist, has defined four different zones around our body. Each zone is a circular area in which we let other to enter or stay depending upon kind of relationship we're seeking or currently have with them.

Different zones of proxemics (Interpersonal Distances)

1) Intimate Zone (from 6 to 18 inches): This is the zone a person guards as individual property. Only romantic partner, close friends and relatives are allowed to enter in it.

2) Personal Zone (from 18 to 48 inches): This is the distance we keep from others during friendly interactions, social gatherings or parties.

3) Social Zone (from 4 to 12 feet): This is the distance we keep from strangers or persons with a little or no acquaintance at all.

4) Public Zone (beyond 12 feet): This is the distance we maintain while interacting or addressing to large group of people.

Above are approximate distances with which Edward T. Hall put up his theory but radius of each zone may vary with climate, culture, society or geography.

Related Articles:
1) Cabin of chief 2) Making true friends 3) Positive Body Language 4) Secret of Metropolitan nervousness 5) Elevator Etiquette 6) Context 7) Clusters 8) Congruence 9) Context 10) Micro Expressions 11) Para Language 12) Postures 13) Hand Gestures 14) Challenges 15) Interpretation 16) Baseline 17) Perceptual Bias 18) Inside Interrogation Room 19) Basic Bodily Clues

November 19, 2011

Reading Body Language - Congruence

In last article, we came to know about clustering which is the first thing to collect while reading body language. Moreover, a cluster is a door step for interpretation of a nonverbal message more accurately.

If any words are involved in a cluster then it has to be analyzed or scrutinized further to check if it conveys a true and consistant message along with the body language or not. Why exactly the verification of authenticity of the message is required in the first place at all?

By most, our brain maintains proper coordination or synchrony among facial expression, posture, movement, words and tone of voice. If they remain more synchronized with each other, a message gets across more effectively, precisely and correctly. Bodily clues and moves supporting, synchronizing and reflecting what words are conveying is an truthful massage. It is called as CONGRUENCE or compatibility.

What if someone wants to distract or lie to others with a false message? Our deliberate cleverness comes into play for the same. In practical life, we find ourselves in very awkward situations in which passing exact and true message may not be in our best interest. They are a number of reasons for same but all of them cannot be discussed in this article.

There are two persons saying, "I'm open to and confident about the new challenges!". One person has crossed arms over chest with false smile on face while the other has opened arms wide and seems ready to embrace. Who would you believe to be ready for challenges?

Who's open and confident? Person to standing at left or Right?

Anxiety, fear, guilt or distress of being damned, embarrassed and punished by others while saying what others are expecting to hear from an individual starts leaking out through the lack of bodily control and movement coordination. Ultimately we try to cover up it by verbal crafting but mind doesn't let us to deny the truth.

Movements of various parts of our body become less compatible with each other and/or get completely out of synchrony. Thus a whole cluster appears to be non-congruent and incompatible with the spoken or uttered words.

Always remember that actions clearly convey whereas words merely (try to) convince. That's the very reason why it's said that Actions speak louder than words.

Related Articles:
1) Body Language Brain 2) Basic Emotional Expressions 3) Clusters 4) Proxemics 5) Context 6) Micro Expressions 7) Para Language 8) Postures 9) Facial Expressions 10) Hand Gestures 11) Challenges 12) Interpretation 13) Baseline 14) Perceptual Bias 15) Basic Bodily Clues 16) Is Human Communication 93% Nonverbal?

Reading Body Language - Clusters

It’s very amazing to know that we all communicate nonverbally (through body language, facial expressions and voice) by most. Same fact excites many aspiring social readers and body language experts to jump start observing and interpreting others. Knowing someone’s emotions, feelings, attitudes and intentions is greatly decisive in social life but also it's more important to interpret them more accurately.

Putting pieces together
Reading and interpreting this very article is quite easy because we all are aware of different words that have been put together in an acceptable sequence (syntax) in different sentences and paragraphs by following a certain grammatical rules. They make clear sense to anybody who knows English.

On the contrary, shifting their positions, dropping them, inserting unrelated words or defying grammar rules would lead to complete confusion and total loss of the purpose of writing this article in the first place. The same rules apply to interpretation of body language and nonverbal communication.

Interestingly, body language has its own vocabulary, grammar, syntax and sentences. We communicate nonverbally with the help of different expressions, signals and clues that are grouped together or given away one after another in a sequence. It's identical to the way different words put together create a meaningful sentence. Any single word which is isolated from a sentence may not convey the whole message but many words can easily do the same.

Combination of different sensory stimulus or inputs, facial expressions, eye contacts, gestures, movements, postures and vocal tones convey a distinct message. Most of us try to interpret each of them in isolation, often leading to complete misunderstanding. Just like composing sentences, we need to put them together. This method is called as CLUSTERING. A cluster clearly makes sense of distinct nonverbal message. Let’s take an example of it.

Most of us simply assume that crossing arms over the chest is a self-defensive or controlling action. As it clearly appears, we cover vulnerable parts of upper body (torso). Definitely, it's not a welcoming or open approach at all. However, crossing arms over the chest doesn't mean entirely self-defense when it is put in different clusters.

Look at these three pictures and find what each person is likely expressing. Keenly observe their facial expressions (especially their eyebrows), postures (especially their necks) and gazes (how they make or don't make eye contacts).

Warning or Criticizing (Left),
Dejected or Heartbroken (Center),
Disagreed or Disappointed (Right)

Also, we need take physical environment or specific situation into account while looking at a person with arms crossed on its chest. This old lady wearing a sweater is protecting herself from cold by crossing arms so that maximum body heat would be retained.

Even here, her body posture and clothes give an idea about how intensely she would be suffering from cold. Look at hunched back, lowered chin and legs tightly held together.

Interpreting body language in clusters is very crucial to understand overall nonverbal message correctly, given by anybody in the given context.

Related Articles:
1) Body Language Brain 2) Basic Emotional Expressions 3) Congruence 4) Proxemics 5) Context 6) Micro Expressions 7) Para Language 8) Postures 9) Facial Expressions 10) Hand Gestures 11) Challenges 12) Interpretation 13) Baseline 14) Perceptual Bias 15) Basic Bodily Clues 16) Is Human Communication 93% Nonverbal?