Space Invasion, When People Get too Close

I’m about to speak to a group of CEOs in Florida.  I notice that two of the group members are standing side-to-side, feet in a guy relaxed stance talking together laughing and eating bagels. Another CEO, the only guy in the meeting wearing a tie approaches them.  Their entire bodies change and turn to face the Tie guy each enlarging their bodies and moving their feet far apart.  In a brief minute they are exchanging thousands of cues.  It is clear to me these guys aren’t going to share the bagels or anything else with Tie guy but Tie guy doesn’t pick up on the cues.  Research shows that in just one minute you can exchange up to 10,000 nonverbal cues.

        This example specifically was Proxemics- how people use and perceive space.  Adults typically have more control of their face and upper bodies but the feet are under less conscious control.

        The broader your stance typically the more powerful you feel or want to feel. There’s physics to it!  The more space you take up the less of a push over you are as well as the message of power you send to others.

        So note, our feet communicate exactly what we think and feel more honestly than other parts of our bodies. (Morris, 1985, 244) Generally, people are focused on controlling their facial expressions, torsos and upper body while communicating.  The feet are vital to us responding to danger and stress and we need them to freeze, flee, fight, or fall.

        When you’re monitoring yourself check out your feet how you feel about yourself the topic or situation and the other person or people you are with.

        The CEOs eating bagels in the story changed their stances from relaxed to what I call a Toe Stop position. A position people, mainly men, take when they are standing side-by-side with their buddies in agreement, talking to equals and relaxed. When Tie guy approached they went into what I call lock and load position. True Grit ready to go for their guns. It is an alpha/ready to attack or defend stance.

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at