Get out of my face!

Personal space is very important to us.  We have boundaries, imaginary fields of the acceptable and unacceptable.  Some are socially adaptive changing their frontiers depending on where we are at the time, some are emotionally adaptive based on trust and acceptance.

Standing on the concourse of Euston Station you can see excellent examples of both situations.

In the UK we are very clear on our personal space.  In most cases, with people we don’t know, our personal space usually extends about two feet from our body.  However, in Japan this can be three feet or more.  In the UK a handshake is an acceptable greeting, it allows that two feet distance to be maintained but is an acceptable invasion of space.  In Japan the formal bow remains distant, it is considered inappropriate to touch.

Most of us maintain comfortable safe distance but we easily adapt to the current situation.  In a crowded railway station the two feet barrier almost disappears.  Even some  elements of physical contact almost become acceptable.  Cram all those people onto a train and personal space becomes restricted to literally just around the head and face. Something that the professional pick-pocket relies upon to ply their trade.  Moving out of the train and back into an open space and our personal borders re-assert themselves.

Emotional barriers work slightly differently, adapting over time and situation.

Two people meeting for the first date usually have their borders firmly in place, but as time goes on these barriers are either reduced, or reinforced depending on the response of the individuals.  Subtle shifts in position and posture, leaning forward, moving the hands into the no-man’s land across the table top are all signs that the barriers are being removed and an invitation to personal space.  Social grooming is the sign of trust and acceptance.  Reaching out to brush lint from a shoulder.

Do not assume that once a boundary has been relaxed that it will stay as such.  These psychological barriers can be very quickly re-established if trust is lost.  Stepping away,  refusing to meet the eyes, flinching away from the grooming hand; all very clear social signals that trust is not given.

Remember, different cultures have very different social rules for personal space, and there are always individual differences.  Don’t assume that someone accepts the same approaches that you will.  Look for the responses to your actions and behaviours.  Don’t assume.

Flirt, Flirt, Flirt

“She/He is just flirting with you to get what she/he wants!”  Sound familiar?  Are we all guilty of using sex as a weapon?

Well, yes, actually we are, and we are probably not even aware that we do it.

Sometimes a flirt is so full on that the phrase “Throwing themselves at him/her” could be used.  But there are more subtle flirts that may no be consciously noted.  The touch of the arm in conversation, the slight bite of the lip, the focussed gaze on the mouth.  They may not be noticed unless you are looking for them, but on a subliminal level you have probably already reacted to them.

Probably the most obvious flirts are things like the touch, or the grooming. Picking lint from someone’s shoulder.  One of the more common ones and not often noticed is the head dip.  The slight angling of the head to one side while listening and the subtle enlargement of the eyes.  The act of exposing the neck in ingrained in us as a passive gesture that we can find it very hard to control.  It demonstrates vulnerability, passivity and submission. This can be very subtle and is more common in women than it is with men.  There are some body-language guides that suggest this posture is a great way of building rapport as it is like lending an ear.  I disagree.  Remember that this head dip is a sign of vulnerability.  If someone is coming to you for advice and support they want strength and positive attitude.  This head dip could be interpreted as a weakness in this case.  Add to that cognitive load while listening and you come off looking confused and weak.

Flirts can be used successfully, as long as they are not overdone, but you need to ask yourself is it appropriate to manipulate another like this?

Sales people can make use of the flirt, they can cover and divert away from concerns.  When selling a product you are also selling yourself. These little flirts are making little insincere promises. The lean of the head, the lick of the lips, hair tucked behind the ear and the tilted head with a ghost of a smile.  Or for the men the posturing Alpha.  Hand on the hips and chest thrust forward,  head held high.  Hands in the pockets with the thumb showing or thumbs tucked in the belt line are all great alpha flirts.   Timing a flirt well if it is received can have a very positive effect.  However, if the flirt is not received well… you have just distanced yourself.

The use of the flirt may not be particularly ethical but as I have said we tend to do it without even realising it.  This can increase with “reflective empathy”

As a race we humans are a tribe.  Before we used words, posture and facial expression was our way of communicating and this is still ingrained into us these days.  We still mirror other people’s emotional signals as an indicator that we are aware of their current feelings.  Being interested in someone else’s flirt will naturally cause a flirt response or a rejection.

The danger comes when the flirt progresses too far.  Over do it and suddenly what you are offering is not really on the table.   You then have the situation of developing rejection that could completely undermine any progress you have made.

I try to avoid flirts if at all possible.  They are too easy to misconstrue.  I am a firm believer that if you are going to sell something, do it on its own merits, not by offering yourself up into the bargain.

Personal space is very important to people, especially here in the UK.  Invading someone’s personal space can be very intrusive and leave people feeling very uncomfortable especially when it is not invited.  Think of how you feel stood in a lift when suddenly a lot of people get in.  All people you are unfamiliar with pressed in close to you.

Touching is generally taboo unless it is invited; certainly in the UK where a handshake is about the limit of acceptable with someone you have never met before.

Flirts can be fun and exciting, but I would heartily recommend that you keep them out of the business world.  Unless of course you are a prostitute.