When I was in high school, one of my science teachers told us that if you ever wanted to know how big a person’s personal bubble was, while eating a meal with them, slowly start placing your items closer and closer to them. When they either speak up, or move the items, you know you’ve hit the personal bubble limit. This is a fascinating idea to me, and I think subconsciously I’m always testing the waters. I’m constantly finding my glasses on the other side of the table, and quickly pulling them back to my side, wondering if anyone has noticed. No one ever speaks about it, and I’m not sure if this means I have a large personal bubble, or if I’m just a subconscious analyst of people.
In my reading about ways to succeed in the professional word, one thing that comes up repeatedly is how to appear powerful. One of the best ways to appear powerful is to take up a lot of space. Many men do this almost automatically, where many women tend to take up less space, and thus appear less powerful. I’m not sure if this is social conditioning, or more personality. When there are a lot of people around, I tend to close in around myself, and take up as little space as possible. I don’t consciously thinking about projecting any weakness, because usually I’m just trying to avoid a situation where I touch space with someone and their movements send me into spasms of annoyance. But no one else is inside my head, so they couldn’t possibly know that I’m trying to be kind and offer them as much space as possible. This doesn’t happen in all situations. On the airplane, I try to take up as little space as possible, and get as much of the arm rest, or the space I need to hold the book I’m reading. Is this a sign of social conditioning, or just a need to be comfortable in uncomfortable spaces?
Back to the body posture indicating power, I think it’s somewhat ridiculous. There’s a co-worker I know, who oftentimes spreads out so that he takes up more space, and I just find it arrogant. I know when I was learning about the DISC profiles, that D’s tend to take up large amounts of space, as it’s a sign of dominance, but again, I think it’s slightly absurd that we judge things on appearance and body posture, and not what’s actually being said or done. Maybe if we all spent more time analyzing what comes out of people’s mouths, instead of how they look or how they hold themselves, people wouldn’t see gender and race differences. Maybe if we realized that everyone looks the same under the skin, we’d stop having prejudices.
I’m frustrated sometimes, that I’m proud of Mary Barra for being the first female CEO of an auto company, because the only thing that should matter is her expertise and talent. It shouldn’t be important that she’s female, but right now, it is. I can’t wait for the day that we celebrate people’s accomplishments for the accomplishment, and not the color of their skin, or their gender, or their age.