Everyday, these distances conveys diverse meanings and is intepreted

Everyday, we are confronted with various situations that call for
different uses of distance in our communication either without our conciousness
or with careful choice. It can involve everything from choosing to sit on the
other side of the library from a group of people we do not know to kissing our
children when they are back from school and so on. Each one of these distances
conveys diverse meanings and is intepreted in a particular way. For example, in
an interview, a person would not engage their interviewer at a very close
distance because it would be totally improper and quite awkward or standing
face to face with a complete stranger on a bus may makes us uncomfortable.
Understanding these different distances will allow us to avoid inappropriate and
often embarrassing situations.

 

There
have been a myriad of researches on proxemic behavior which reveal extremely
exciting and useful information about how space is used as communication and
its subsequent effects on communication outcomes. Watson (1972) conceived two classes of variables that determine
proxemic behavior, i.e. interactant (or participant) and environmental
variables. Another category, variables related to the nature of the
interaction, was added by Burgoon and
Jones (1976). The last classification basically consists of “formality
or intimacy of the situation and topic, familiarity of the interactants with
the setting, the purpose of the interaction, and, in group situations, the
presence of a leader” (p. 134), among which the perception of personal
space will set insight into how we use space to communicate.

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Personal space is defined as
“the distance within which people feel comfortable when interacting with
others” and “the size of such space is not only culturally
determined, but also influenced by the relationship” (Liu, Vol?i? & Gallois, 2015, p. 185). In terms of degree of intimacy or formality of an interaction, Hall’s (1966) analysis based on anthropological
observations described personal distance in four distinct zones: intimate space
(close phase: less than 1 to 2 cm, far phase: 6 -18 inches), personal space
(close phase: 1.5 – 2.5 feet, far phase: 2.5 to 4 feet), social space (close
phase: 4 – 7 feet, far phase: 7 – 12 feet), and public space (close phase: 12 –
25 feet, far phase: 25 feet or more). The first phase is for private
interactions or physical contact, such as embracing, touching or whispering or
in Hall’s words – “this is the distance of love-making and wrestling,
comforting and protecting” (p. 117). The second one is for situations involving
less sensory involvement.  The third one
is for such exchanges as “impersonal business” or “social gathering” (p. 121).
The last one is used for public speaking or distances from public officials. Despite
not clarifying the personal space as specifically as Hall, Engleberg &
Wynn (2006) maintained the
four zones. Close friends, lovers, children and close family members are
allowed in the intimate zone. The next zone is reserved for conversations with
friends, to chat with associates, and in group discussions. A further range is used
for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances. Speeches, lectures,
and theater which are for larger audiences are presented in the farthest
distance.

 

It is widely agreed that personal space is higly valued and people
tend to feel discomfortable, angry, or anxious when their personal space is invaded;
and according to Engleberg
& Wynn (2006), permitting a person to come into
personal space and entering somebody else’s personal space are indicators of
perception of those people’s relationship. Moreover, clearly,
no matter the culture, the distance zones that we choose for different groups
and people can communicate our feelings towards them in very powerful ways (Proxemics, 2011). Intimate distance is obviously the space set aside only for those who we trust, love
and consider the most important in our social spheres. If such people are
present in our most inner circle, we, of course, enjoy their presence; however,
to other uninvited existence, we will shut down and try to retain somehow our
comfort zone. This implies why
we feel uneasy, embarrassed or even furious when a person we are not familiar
with gives a sudden hug or kiss.
The confusion and panic caused by one’s exposure to unwelcome invasion of
his/her personal distance can be usefully exploited in some cases. “For example, one of the popular
interrogation techniques is to intimidate the suspect by getting very close to
invade his intimate zone. Then, while he is helpless, try to exploit his
vulnerability and discomfort to extract information” (Tarakanov, n.d.). People that we feel relaxed around and have a good relationship
with are accepted in personal zone, which is an easy and relaxed space for “talking, shaking hands,
gesturing and making faces” (Tarakanov, n.d.).
Depending on personal preference and affection, this zone may contain some
smaller divisions but the main point is that the more we like someone, the
closer we tend to sit or stand to him/her. This is the reason why people of the
same group have a tendency of sitting in same table when they attend parties
and even in the same group, people often choose to sit next to the person they share
more things in common and feel comfortable to talk to. Social space is the most neutral
zone reserved
for starting a conversation with strangers and new
acquaintances that we may have some
interaction with, “such as shopkeepers, clerks in the bank and other sales or
service providers” (Tarakanov, n.d.); or
the one we first meet in a meeting or a club. The explanation Tarakanov (n.d.) finds most appropriate to this
behavior is that

in those cases, there is usually some
kind of an artificial barrier between you and the stranger – a desk
or some board/book/paper you or they hold. This barrier helps to relax and
maintain the comfort zone and in the meanwhile allows you to be in closer
proximity to discuss and examine details.

The outermost distance is suitable for public speaking, lecturing
or art performance in that not only do people find it advantageous and convenient to address a large group
of audience from such space but this is comfortable for the
audience as well. More exactly, the speakers, lectureres or artists seem to
consider the whole group of audience as one individual with a great amount of
personal space and vice versa, the latter all gets to see and hear the
former well enough.

Generally, the distance zones we choose with the
people around us can change from time to time and such a shift indicates two-side
meanings. On one side, it results from the change in our relationship with
others. For example, when the students in a class meet the first time at the
beginning of the school year, they communicate in the social zone. However,
after getting to know about one another better, they enter the closer space –
personal one, or even the innermost place of the circle. On the other side, we
prefer a closer or farther distance to imply a desire to change our
relationship with others. For instance, a man meets a woman for the first time
and the distance zone they use at the beginning of the party is social. Towards
the end of the party, nevertheless, if the man begins to use more of a personal
zone, he is probably communicating an interest in the woman and expresses a
wish to have a certain relationship with that woman.

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