Proxemics & Personal Space: Global Citizens What is your Comfort Zone?




How much personal space do you use?

There are widely divergent cultural mores and norms related to personal space. The diagram contains the North American norms for personal space during face to face communication. There are 4 levels of personal space: intimate, personal, social and public. Cross-cultural sensitivity is an essential skill for workplace harmony and collaboration.
I grew up in Canada and have always had a need for a large amount of personal space. Research on Proxemics (the study of personal space) has categorized personal space needs by country.

Canadians value their personal space and seek 2-3 feet of personal space during conversations. 
  • For most Canadians there is little to no touching during conversations. 
  • In French-speaking regions, there is more touching during conversations and the personal space is generally reduced.

  • Culturally I am also Israeli and was born in Israel.  I frequently travel overseas to visit family. That's when I notice personal space, positioning and cultural differences most acutely. I find my Israeli friends and family members moving closer to me when talking, using more hand gestures and using more physical contact. I have observed myself, moving away, to adjust my personal space and comfort zone. They must be bewildered by my seemingly cold and aloof behavior. While I feel anxious that they are crowding me. Both sides are adjusting their comfort zone.

    I am also American now and have lived in the Southeastern USA for the past 10 years. There are more subtle differences between Canadians and Americans. I notice this primarily in the amount and directness of people's eye-contact. The American gaze is longer and more direct than the Canadian gaze. At this point, I am somewhat of a hybrid of cultures!

    I'd encourage you to consider recent cross-cultural conversations you have had. Reflect on the body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and personal space. What did you observe? I'd love to hear about your experiences navigating personal space.

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    Author: © 2013 - All Rights Reserved - Sharon B. Cohen, MA, Dip.Educ, CPRP. Career Counselor and Career Transition Specialist. Atlanta, GA. "Helping business professionals, reach their career potential!" sharonbcohen@bellsouth.net

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