Preston Ni M.S.B.A.

Communication Success


3 Ways Physical Space Defines Power in Relationships

How physical space defines power in relationships.

Posted Jan 26, 2020

Source: freepikdotcom

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines proxemics as “the study of the nature, degree, and effect of the spatial separation individuals naturally maintain (as in various social and interpersonal situations) and of how this separation relates to environmental and cultural factors.” The concept of proxemics originated from cultural anthropologist Edward Hall, and is one of the facets of the study of nonverbal communication.

One of the most interesting and important aspects of proxemics is the idea of space – how arrangement and set-up of physical space defines power and control in relationships. This is true in whether the space is office, family home, couple’s dwelling, or a roommate’s apartment. The arrangement of space often directly or indirectly suggests power, and the degree of equality or inequality in a relationship. Below are some case scenarios, with references from my books How to Successfully Handle Aggressive, Intimidating, and Controlling People and How to Communicate with Highly Sensitive People:  

3 Ways Physical Space Defines Power

The size of a space, the exclusivity of a space, and how a space is utilized can often reflect greater or lesser social power.

Consider the following examples:

  • A. One of the most obvious displays of status and power in proxemics is the allocation of offices in the workplace: The higher an individual’s position, the more likely she or he will command a larger office space, at a choice location (i.e. corner office with a view), with greater privacy and exclusivity (i.e. secretary outside office as “gatekeeper”). This display of professional power is plain for all to see.
  • B. An often less apparent, but no less significant display of status and power in proxemics is the allocation of space in personal living environments. For instance, in a two-parent family home, the parent who has more “exclusive” space (i.e. eats at the head of the table, has a reclining chair no one else is allowed to use, possesses own den or home office, has own hobby and recreation space, etc.) is usually the more dominant member of the family.

In addition to the examples above, power dynamics in proxemics can also present itself in many other scenarios such as a romantic couple’s living space, roommates’ apartment, or even where you’re seated in a restaurant.

How is proxemics a relevant factor in your life? What does it say about power dynamics at your work or at home? For tips on how to arrange physical space to strengthen your communication and relationships, see references below.

© 2020 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.

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Hall, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension. Anchor Books. (1966)