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On Measuring Human Distance

I love the subtle clues body language reveals. We're constantly communicating even when we keep our mouths shut. Non-verbal communication is like a foreign language and can be just as diverse to navigate from culture to culture.

As a writer, there's lots of fun communicating with a body. Take the language of space and distance.

For those of you living in North America, Australia/New Zealand, and England, our bodies and psyches recognize four basic comfort zones.

Zone # 1, The Public Zone (12 feet)
We generally like twelve feet of space when talking to a crowd. Public speaking is hard enough, but when that front row is a little too up close? Yikes! Your defense mechanism kicks in making you look further out into the crowd.

If you had a tape measure with you, your gaze would naturally fall about 12 feet or beyond.

And if you make eye contact with the first few's likely because you made a concerted effort to connect with them (and good for you for stretching that social muscle).

Zone # 2, The Social Zone (4 to 12 feet)

When you're talking with say, a plumber about doing work on your home, this is the distance we
typically observe. This is also the space we keep for co-workers we don't know so well and is the usual space for an interview.

When you're reading your next book, see if you get a sense for the uncomfortable when the villain moves in too close.

Another non-verbal cue in this zone: social mirroring.

That means your posture and hands gestures mimic the person you're with. If you copy the other person's body language, you're seeking acceptance. This is also a great way interviewers make a job applicant comfortable.

Does that sound manipulative? Don't worry. We usually do this without even being aware of mirroring the other person. In the world of rapid non-verbal speak, we're telling each other "we're thinking along the same lines. You're safe with me."

Zone # 3, The Personal Zone (18 inches to 4 feet)

This zone's for friendly social gatherings. We feel safe and our body language reflects this. Facial muscles are relaxed. We smile a lot in this zone.

This is also the perfect "inside voice" place moms love so much. Are you picturing your last car ride with rambunctious kids?

Here you also find cultures divergences. The Japanese, for example, have a tighter sense of space. While the norm for the Japanese "Personal Zone" is smaller, Germans land on the other end of the spectrum, purported to have the largest "Personal Zone" of all cultures.

But the next zone is the most intriguing...

Zone # 4, The Intimate Zone (6 inches to 18 inches)

We keep this for spouses, very close friends, and family. To let someone in this close conveys trust and a willingness to let your guard down. We become defensive and on edge when someone we think doesn't deserve such status moves into this territory. A person moving in too close is viewed as aggressive or domineering.

The same is true with letting someone touch your head. Other than your hair stylist, you'd duck away from someone trying to touch that intimate area of your body. You enter into a kind of social contract to allow your stylist to get close.

We're very protective of our noggins and the immediate, intimate zone.

What about 6 inches or less?

Zone # 4, The Sub-Zone (no sexual pun intended!)

Here human contact digs deep in the rich language of love.

Need I say more?

Cheers to you, Reader!


Thanks for stopping by the Casablanca Blog today. If you're looking for a tale loaded with non-verbal communication, take a look at Meet the Earl at Midnight. 

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  1. Great blog! I didn't know about the public speaking zone. Makes sense why I'm uncomfortable when workshop rooms are set up differently.

  2. Fascinating. I am going to try and pay more attention. I think I'm more relaxed about space the older I get or maybe it's just me lol.

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for stopping by the blog. Human behavior is fascinating and so true that we change as we mature and life affects us (positively and negatively). Have a great weekend-


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