Imagine this. You are at a national sales meeting, and see someone you know slightly. This person recognizes you, and approaches to speak with you. He keeps coming towards you. Suddenly your heart starts to beat a little faster, and you wonder what he’s doing.
We all have an inborn “fight or flight” mentality. When a stranger comes too close we have to make an instant decision about whether this is a friend or a foe. If a stranger invades your personal space, your senses wake up as you try to figure out what to do next.
International body language has different cues. Generally North Americans and Europeans stand about three feet, or arm’s length, apart. This is sometimes called an arm-length culture. When closer- contact people move into their space, people from an arm-length culture may feel threatened, and draw back to preserve their person space from invasion. This can continue until the person moving back is literally stopped by a wall.
In wrist-length cultures, people are used to being in close contact, and may move nearer to individuals in business as well. But coming too close may intimidate or threaten the other person.
What to do? To create rapport in a business setting, keep an appropriate distance between you and the other person. Stand close enough to be personal, but not intrusive. If you notice someone is backing away from you, resist the impulse to move closer. Aim to make people feel comfortable by respecting their personal space.
And if someone is coming too close to you, and doesn’t take a hint, try this: Break eye contact, and create a physical barrier. This can include moving behind a table, or holding up a newspaper or book. Anything that creates a real or symbolic barrier can help.