Body language: interpersonal distance

December 9, 2010

I’ve been asked to blog a bit more about proxemics. I mentioned before that the interpersonal distance we keep from other people depends on factors such as gender, culture, and personality.

But how much distance we keep from others also depends on how comfortable we feel with the situation and the people around us.

More than once, I found myself in the following situation at work: For group sessions, I arranged the chairs in a circle. At the far back of the room, two rows of chairs were still standing from an earlier presentation.

Now my clients entered the room for their first court-mandated session. As you can imagine, they didn’t want to be there and wanted nothing to do with a psychologist.

Care to guess which seat the first person to enter chose?

You probably guessed it. In some groups, there’ll be someone who tries to sit in the very last row at the back of the room, as far away from me as possible. Keep in mind that this happens in the very first session, when I didn’t have a chance to work with them yet 🙂

Beware of misinterpretations, though. As with all body language, interpersonal distance can be interpreted only in context. I once had a client who insisted on always sitting very close to me during group sessions. It wasn’t because he liked me so much — he was hard of hearing and wanted to make sure he didn’t miss a thing I said.



  1. I’m always the one sitting in the back. Not so much because I choose the point farthest away from the speaker – I just hate it when there are people sitting in my back. So, what does that say about me 😉

  2. Oh, then you’ll find my next blog post interesting. It covers exactly that topic. Until then, let me assure you that it’s quite normal. Most people, if given the choice, would prefer to sit with their back to a wall, not toward other people.

  3. So you didn’t share with us where the clients who sit in the very last row during the first session sit in future sessions, after you’ve had an opportunity to work with them. 🙂

    • In the next session, they all know the drill and don’t try to sit in the last row. 😉

      Interestingly, everyone always chooses the same seat they had the week before. I always point that out once we talk about habits, and they are surprised because they did that without thinking.

  4. […] not just interpersonal distance that shows how comfortable you are with another person. The angle or orientation of your body is […]

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