Personal Space Differs with Cultures

We’ve all heard the Old Wive’s Tale “An apple a day keeps the Doctor away”.  I ask you, if you buy an apple a day will it keep you healthy?  Or….do you need to EAT the apple you buy every day in order to make a difference?  Yes, of course I’m being facetious, we need to eat the apple.  Allow me to use this example to make a point about DISC, the science and the art of understanding people’s differences.

Many of you have been introduced to DISC.  You accept there is a difference in personalities.  You may even be able to recognize someone’s type based on their behavior or appearance:  a C is analytical; an I loves to be center stage and so on…..  That’s great.  Most of you stop there and take it no further.  That’s the same thing as buying an apple, bringing it home and hoping your health will improve!

I challenge you to take DISC to the next level.  Start to subtly change YOUR interaction with each of the 4 Personality Types in order to improve your communication, your relationships and your leadership.

Let’s start with something very simple but yet so incredibly important – the space you allow between you and the person with whom you are conversing.  Are you aware that each of the 4 Personality Styles has a different comfort level when it comes to the space around them?  Are you respecting THEIR requirement for comfortable space or are you staying “comfortably happy” within YOUR requirement for space?

Depending on the Personality Type of the person in front of you, too much space could make you appear distant or aloof. Too little space may have you coming across as inexperienced or unprofessional.  To all Four Personality Types, the RIGHT amount of distance for THEIR comfort level will make you appear polished and competent.

People-Oriented Personality Types are very comfortable standing close to someone, often reaching out to touch the other person to emphasize their point.  To them the close distance confirms acceptance and recognition.

Someone with a Task-Orientation is more comfortable with more distance between them and others.  Their task orientation will be weighing if it is worth their time to get to know you rather than hoping you accept them!

The question that follows is how do you determine the right amount of space required to present you at your best?  As you approach a colleague with whom you plan to talk, position yourself an arm’s length from them and then focus on them:

  • If they take a subtle step back from you at any point during your conversation, however small the step may be, that little step indicates they prefer more space.  Respect their comfort zone and don’t move forward, even if to you it “feels” like you are not connecting with them.  Honor the distance they create and they will be more at ease with you because to them, at this distance, you are displaying something important – an appropriate and professional manner.
  • If the other person moves toward you, they are probably People-Oriented.  If you are uncomfortable with this closeness DO NOT give in to your desire to step backwards toward your comfortable space.  The other person will notice it immediately and, believe it or not, you will have hit them right where it hurts, in their desire to be liked.  As subtle as one step back may seem, to someone who is People-Oriented, your one step backwards may make them feel that you are not comfortable with them.

I know some of you will embrace this experiment.  Others will assume this isn’t worth exploring.  Consider this:  we often get things backwards.  It’s natural to assume that if you feel comfortable with someone they are also comfortable with you.  Not so!

A relationship will only have a chance to develop if the other person feels comfortable with you!  If you are standing too close for their comfort OR too distant for their needed affirmation of acceptance, a Barrier will develop that will hinder or stop a potentially great relationship. Your success with others will blossom when you honor THEIR requirements rather than holding on to yours.

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