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Communicating without Words
Proxemics Communicating with Space: Proxemics are the study of how space and distances are used in communication. Protection theory states that we maintain more and more distance as we feel the need to protect ourselves from either attack or just plain pushy people (Dosey & Meisels, 1969). These spaces are unique to each culture, but Edward Hall (1959, 1966) defined these four distances common to American speakers.
Intimate Distance 0 to 18 inches: At this distance, we can smell each other’s body odor and easily touch each other. Mothers almost always maintain this distance with very young children, but for most adults, this is seen as a socially inappropriate distance. Adults rarely publicly engage in intimate distance communication.
Personal Distance 18 inches to 4 feet: Okay, this is where most of us stand. We can reach out a hand and comfort someone, but only if we reach. We have some distance between us, so there are no Winterfresh moments here. Most Americans want to carry on a face to face conversation in this range.
Social Distance 4 feet to 12 feet: This is really more of a business distance. The customer service clerk stays at least four feet from the customer, the shopper stays at least 4 feet away from the car salesperson. Often, people will stay behind a desk to keep others at a social distance. This distance says: “We will interact and conduct business, but I don’t really want you too near me. We aren’t friends.”
Public Distance 12 feet to 25 feet: This is the distance that we tend to stay from any threat. If public speaking threatens us, we stay 12 feet away from the nearest audience member. If you are threatened by a scary lookingguy on campus, you will keep at least 12 feet of distance between you. People speaking in front of crowds often maintain this distance, particularly if they have an unpopular message.
In each of the following pairs, guess side (right or left) will keep a greater distance:
- Two men casually speaking
- Two women casually speaking
- Discussing something personal
- Discussing something businessrelated
- A person in his own neighborhood
- A person in a strange neighborhood
- A boss walking up to his employee
- An employee walking up to his boss
- Two thirteen year olds
- Two fifty year olds
- Two Iranians
- Two Americans
Touch Talk (Haptics)
During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, orphanages were suffering from an epidemic that killed hundreds if not thousands of children. This disease, called maramus (the wasting away) killed up to 70 or 80% of the children in some orphanages. No one knew how the children became ill, or how to cure them (Halliday, 1948). Eventually scientists found the cause a lack of touch. Babies were not being touched, loved, or “mothered” enough, so they died. Institutions that began teaching the nurses to hold the children found the mortality rate dropped 10, 20, even 30 % (Bakwin, 1949). Touch is oneof our first and most important ways of communicating with others.
About this Document
This handout covers the types of non-verbal communication people use: haptics, proxemics, tone of voice and others.