Lean Into It
You know that guy. The one who stands too close. The one who has not only entered the personal space bubble but has flat-out burst it. The guy who has most definitely eaten a burger and…give me a minute…yes, some cheese fries for lunch. The one who doesn’t quite understand the concept of a personal zone.
Proxemics, or space, is an aspect of nonverbal communication that most of us aren’t consciously aware of. It’s not until “that guy” interferes with our space that we become attuned to how our bodies interact in space with others.
We all have a pre-determined comfortability with space. In general terms, there are four zones of space with corresponding distances:
Intimate (0-18 in.)
Personal (1.5-5 ft.)
Social (5-7 ft.)
Public (7+ ft.)
Culture plays a large role in our comfort with space. For example, Latin American cultures encourage closing the gap of space with acquaintances, friends, and family, while in the United States, we prefer a wider distance.
Now, this tip isn’t only about burger-eating dudes with space issues. It’s about how you can use space purposefully to facilitate connection.
Leaning is an aspect of space that is very powerful.
It can be used for:
Just like we learned with nodding and the head tilt, leaning is a form of nonverbal encouragement and engagement.
When someone says something you agree with, like, “Pictures of puppies are the greatest thing since sliced bread,” lean forward and close the space gap to cue agreement.
Or if you’re giving a speech or presenting in front of a group, lean forward during an important point to cue emphasis.
Leaning can even be used in photos to imply directness, authority, and connectedness. Try:
Leaning on a table
Leaning on a chair
Leaning forward smiling
Leaning forward while gesturing
The lean is a subtle cue and must be used as such to be effective. Leaning during an entire presentation or conversation does not have the same effect as purposeful, well-placed leans during important points.
Warning: Leaning does close the gap of space. If you notice the other person leans away from your lean, distances themselves, or blocks their body with their arms or torso, you have breached their personal zone. Take a step back to bring back balance.
Challenge: Practice purposeful leaning in your next conversation, meeting, or interaction. Let me know how it goes!
P.S. Lean wit it, rock wit it. Because why not?
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