Proxy language is perhaps one of the most unnoticed modes of communication.
Speech and writing receive almost all of our attention, which makes us assume that most of the information we need to express and interpret is contained there; and non-verbal language is grossly underestimated. However, in the latter category, we tend to only consider sign language and prosody. We don’t realize that there are many people beyond these elements.
In this article we will see what proxemic language is and how that influences both our relationships and the meanings we express.
Proxy language: a definition
Let’s start with the basics. We understand by proxy language a type of non-verbal communication based on distance which are maintained between two bodies, as well as with the location of people in certain spaces.
Although this is a way of conveying meanings implicitly and appeal to our most emotional sideThis does not make proxemics an invaluable communication tool. In fact, the meaning of an entire sentence, no matter how long it is, can be completely changed depending on how we use it.
In addition, proxemic language takes into account the movements that are performed by translating the whole body when moving from one point to another. In other words, he does not study distances as if it were a simple variable found in “frozen images”, but focuses on the before and after. It is not the same to approach a person walking 20 meters to line up in an elevator.
The usefulness of this form of communication
Essentially, proxemic language is used to express ideas that belong to two different meanings: degree of intimacy and degree of hostility.
The closer the distance between two people is, the greater the intimacy. Plus, out of the hand of intimacy goes the idea that you want to connect emotionally with the other, who is empathetic. That is why some negotiation techniques use the resource approach the other person little by little so that he accepts the idea that the other seeks the good of both through the treatment he offers.
Unlike intimacy, there is no direct relationship between the distance between people and the extent to which this attitude is present. In fact, hostility is communicated through unusually small or unusually wide distances. In the first case we want to express the desire to dominate the other, while in the second it shows mistrust and a defensive attitude.
Spaces and contexts in which it is applied
The way proxemics work varies considerably depending on the type of space the person is in. And is that no relation is given simply in a vacuum, there is always a context that conditions us. Proximity, after all, is a social thing: it operates on what one knows the other knows, and different environments generate expectations both in the sender and in the receiver.
Now, what are the different types of spaces on which proxemic language depends? The main ones are as follows.
1. Public space
As the name suggests, this context is one in which anyone can participate in what is going on. In the proxémico language, we are a space in which there is a speaker and a multitude of people who take care of what he does or says.
The distance between the transmitter and the receivers is generally large, several meters if possible, because there are many people involved in the exchange of information and it must be clear that the message is addressed to the whole world.
2. Social space
Such contexts belong to the domain of the professional, formal and business meetings. The typical distance between those involved is usually one to three meters.
3. Personal space
Personal space is defined by its informal nature, in which it becomes evident that there is at least one significant emotional or affective connection. It happens between friends, family or colleagues who know each other well. The situations it favors are characterized by the fact that the distance between people is less than one meter.
4. Intimate space
Those who use this type of space as a form of proxemic language (in addition to other uses) are people with a close relationship, such as couples, close relatives, or longtime friends.
Here, the typical distance can go from a few dozen centimeters for direct physical contact.
The distances maintained between people depending on the type of space they find themselves in can vary greatly depending on the type of culture to which they belong.
So, for example, northern European countries and Southeast Asia are characterized by the use of a biased approximation towards relatively large interpersonal distances.
However, the countries bordering the Mediterranean, those belonging to Ibero-America and many of those belonging to the Middle East and Africa, are characterized by the normalization of much smaller interpersonal spaces, as well as by the massive use of physical contact up to all between unknown parents.