body language: violations of territory

August 15, 2010

If you move too close, touch, or place an object on something that another person considers his or her territory, you have violated the unspoken rules and will make him or her feel uncomfortable or even resentful.

So in what ways can people violate someone else’s territory, on purpose or by accident?

Here are a few examples.

A desk is one object that we consider our personal territory. If another person throws a file on our desk or places his mug on it while we’re sitting behind it, it violates our territory. Or if he crosses the imaginary line and walks around to stand on our side of the desk, maybe even putting a hand on the desk, it can be a violation too.

When two people share a table in a restaurant or café, they divide the table in an unspoken agreement. Next time you meet a friend for dinner, try moving your cutlery or glass or the salt and pepper shakers on his or her side of the table, intruding into his or her territory. Most people will begin to feel uncomfortable or irritated, often without really knowing what caused it.

Sitting in someone else’s chair violates his territorial rights too. In my groups at work, clients tend to choose the same place in every session. Sitting in the familiar seat establishes a soothing routine. My clients do this without speaking about it or being aware of it. When a new client, not being aware of the unspoken seating arrangement, sits in the chair of another client, the other client is visibly irritated.

Next, I’ll talk about the correlation between territory and status.

If there’s any aspect of body language that you want me to blog about, please let me know by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail (jae_s1978 AT yahoo.de)



  1. I like your comments and observations on body language. How about one on touching? That’s one person touching another. Or have you done one and I missed it (horrors!)?

    • No, I haven’t explicitely blogged about touching yet. I’ll see what I come up with, because touching is indeed an interesting topic.

      Thanks for suggesting it.

  2. And a mug can be a territory in itself. I decided long ago not to bring my own mug to the office – there are too many people who claim someone elses mug as an “ownerless object”. And then the former owner writes an email to literally everyone in the office “did anyone see my bright pink mug” 🙂
    Talk about embarrassing… we have 200 people working in the office. And after that email everybody wonders why a tough guy would have a bright pink mug.

    • Hehehe. You’re right about that. A mug is part of our territory too.

      By the way, my friend M. just told me I can violate her territorial rights anytime by pushing my Starbucks coffee onto her side of the table 😉

      • The same applies to chocolate. You can also buy a part of my territory with chocolate cake.

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