Proximics and Spatial Relations

When you meet with people do you ever take into consideration the layout of the room you are meeting in? For example, do you look to see if there are barriers to effective communications which, while not always intentional, can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the meeting?

A simple example is when there is a meeting between representatives of two companies in a room and they sit across the table from each other. The table in between the two sides represents a barrier from effective communication as one side (or both) will feel the other side needs the big table as protection. While this isn’t always a conscious thought, subconsciously, this barrier can make any compromise difficult, if not impossible.

If someone comes into your office to meet and you are sitting in a plush chair behind your desk and the visitor is sitting in a vastly inferior chair on the other side of your desk, this sends a strong message. Instead of meeting in this environment, if at all possible, situate your office in a way so you can meet with people on the same level, sitting on comparable chairs with nothing in between.

Realize when you are speaking with a child, if you are in a situation where you need to demonstrate dominance, you are going to look down on them, which will demonstrate your superiority. However, if you are trying to comfort them and have more effective communication, you will get on their level so it’s no longer an intimidating situation. The same applies to business communication. Physically speaking down to people (by being on a higher level) is just as intimidating as speaking down to people in your use of words.

If you are in negotiations with a company and there are three people from your side and three from their side in a board room, rather than have your three people sit on one side of the table and the other three sit on the other side of the table, spread out evenly so there are people from the different companies sitting next to each other rather than always across from each other (on the other hand, if this is an adversarial meeting, you might intentionally keep the groups on opposite sides).

When communicating one on one, do what you can to remove barriers between you (physical barriers) and speak from the same level whenever possible.

Proximics and spatial relations are fascinating subjects and this is just touching the very tip of the subjects. I would strongly recommend people research more on these subjects to become greater communicators.

Have a great day.

Lawrence

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