Understanding Body Language and Facial Expressions

Understanding Body Language and Facial Expressions

Personal Space

Have you ever heard someone refer to their need for personal space? Have you ever started to feel uncomfortable when someone stands just a little too close to you?

The distance people maintain between themselves and other people is another indicator as to what they feel about the other person. What happens when someone stands too close to you? I bet you feel uncomfortable, right?

People like to keep some distance between them and strangers or people they are not comfortable with, only allowing people they feel comfortable with to get closer to them. The concept of proxemics, introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, suggests that there are four zones of personal space.

Intimate Distance: 6 to 18 inches 

This level of physical distance often indicates a closer relationship or greater comfort between individuals. It usually occurs during intimate contact such as hugging, whispering, or touching.

Personal Distance: 1.5 to 4 feet

Physical distance at this level usually occurs between people who are family members or close friends. The closer the people can comfortably stand while interacting can be an indicator of the level of intimacy in their relationship.

Social Distance: 4 to 12 feet

This level of physical distance is often used with individuals who are acquaintances.

With someone you know fairly well, such as a co-worker you see several times a week, you might feel more comfortable interacting at a closer distance.

In cases where you do not know the other person well, such as a postal delivery driver you only see once a month, a distance of 10 to 12 feet may feel more comfortable.

Public Distance: 12 to 25 feet

Physical distance at this level is often used in public speaking situations. Talking in front of a class full of students or giving a presentation at work are good examples of such situations.

It is also important to note that the level of personal distance that individuals need to feel comfortable can vary from culture to culture.

One oft-cited example is the difference between people from Latin cultures and those from North America. People from Latin countries tend to feel more comfortable standing closer to one another as they interact while those from North America need more personal distance.

Watching how people use personal distance can give you a lot of clues about their feelings. For instance, if someone comes close to you during a conversation, it shows that they are comfortable with you.

However, it’s always good to watch for other signals, since getting into a person’s personal space can also be a sign of aggression and intimidation. If you move close to someone and they move back, it shows that they are not comfortable, so you should give them their space.


Mirroring can also provide you with a lot of clues when you are in a conversation. Mirroring is a social phenomenon where a person mimics the body language of the person they are in conversation with.

For instance, you might have noticed that when two people are deeply engrossed in a conversation, one of them leaning inwards might result in the other one doing the same thing. Mirroring occurs subconsciously when two people are in tune and in synch with each other.

Therefore, when you notice that someone is mirroring your actions, it means that they are in synch with you, that they are deeply captivated by the conversation. While mirroring occurs unconsciously, you can use it on a conscious level to create rapport with someone you are conversing with.

Try to subtly match their body language. For instance, if their arms are crossed, subtly cross yours as well. As you do this, their mind will unconsciously pick up your actions and will deduce that you are in synch with them, therefore making them more comfortable with the conversation.

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