I was in a line waiting at an ATM when I felt someone bump into me from behind. They apologised but it still made all my ‘spider senses’ fire off warning signals at once. I don’t ever carry my wallet in my back pocket but it still made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Ask yourself, what would you do, how would you react, what would you say? Fight, flight or stay?
One of the most important things professional salespeople must do when they first meet a prospective new client is to neutralise the natural fight/flight instinct that fires in everyone. We have to make the other person feel as safe and as comfortable as possible as quickly as we can so they are willing to engage with us in a positive way. One of the fastest ways to get this wrong is to misjudge the other person’s rules around ‘personal space’.
The 4 Spaces
It got me thinking about the significant difference that space can make as part of a sales process and ongoing relationship with clients. There are 4 basic spaces or distances and these can vary with cultural backgrounds and a wide variety of other factors but let’s examine the generic versions for a moment.
Basically a large open space where you could be within line of sight for a period of time. The number of people involved is usually large enough that you could interact with another person or maybe not? Think of the following sayings “their eyes met across the room”, “I think that guy/girl over there is checking you out”, you get the idea.
More than likely a smaller group of people and standing closer than the public space. The social rules that are implied in this size group also vary from the more public arena. Interaction between members of this smaller group change with the situation and the gender bias of the participants (men – one guy talks at a time, women – let’s just say, definitely not that case) but there is always fascinating dynamics at play for those of us that like to observe human interactions.
This is where it becomes far more individual – funny that! Generally speaking, if you could reach out and touch the other person, without taking a step, you are right there! This varies so wildly with location, situation, occupation, how familiar you are, etc, etc. Tuning in your sensory acuity (how acutely aware you are of your various senses and the signals they are constantly sending you) is a really great idea for anyone in sales.
This is typically reserved for only those that we have given permission to enter and again varies so dramatically from person to person. I find it amazing that when hairdressers see their clients out and about, so many of them still feel it OK to touch their hair (ever noticed that one?). What about the moment someone declares they are pregnant, complete strangers feel they have the right to touch the pregnant belly like somehow, all bets are off and the woman’s body just became fair game?!
Try This Experiment
Grab a friend or fellow professional salesperson and stand about 10 meters apart facing each other. Walk slowly towards them and notice both their and your reactions as you enter first their social space – get them to let you know when you are there from their perspective. Then move closer to the point that they tell you that you are in their personal space and again notice how they react. If you are game, move closer again as you pass into their private space and just pause there for as long as they will let you (at this point I must declare no responsibilities for any subsequent office romances or fights for that matter!). Now reverse the roles and have them walk towards you repeating the same stages.
The Point of the Exercise
I want you to see, hear and feel, in a very real way that these invisible boundaries actually exist and are to be consciously considered and respected. Unexpected and/or unwelcome intrusions are extremely bad for rapport and a mistake in this critical area can trigger a deep-seated emotional response. Effective management of these various spaces has the exact opposite affect and builds trust quickly.
Do you know someone that lacks the necessary sensory awareness? Have there been situations where your invisible boundaries are crossed? When would it be OK to break the unwritten rules? I am sure there are times when people pass through the various spaces and you unconsciously react and adjust (think office lift as one example). As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated.