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Non-Verbal Violation Using Proxemics

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Non-verbal behavior is communication without the use of speech, instead it uses gestures, facial expression, proxemics, haptics, artifacts, body positions and unspoken understandings within a group of people. The expectancy violations is a communications theory that analyzes how people react and respond to violations of their social norms or expectations. The theory positions communication as an exchange of behaviors, where one person’s behavior can be used to violate another’s expectations. Non-verbal codes are not a written set of rules like in spoken or written language, they are culturally structured and informal. These rules or codes are learned throughout your lifetime and vary depending on culture. For example, when meeting someone in the United States it is learned that we shake hands, where in other countries they bow. If I was to travel China and upon meeting someone tried to shake their hand this would be a violation.

The person would expect me to bow and shaking hands would be out of their social norm. The nonverbal behavior I chose to violate was personal space also referred to as proxemics. For my violation I decided to walk closely behind a stranger, trying to stay about 3-5 inches behind them. Personal space is culturally constructed and is subject to change depending on the relationship between the two people and the context of the situation. Depending on the area’s population density the people within the community may have different or altered expectations for personal space. For example, China is densely populated, so the norm for personal space there is much smaller than in the USA. In the US we do not have as dense of a population and the people are accustomed to a larger personal space area. ”

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In the United States, for example, people tend to prefer an “arm’s length” distance from others during communication” (Neulip,2012, p. 287). Halls research stated in the text, says the distance category for personal space in public environment for two non-intimate people is 12 inches and beyond (Burgoon, 2010, p. 381). Taking Halls research into consideration, walking less than 4 inches behind someone as my experiment required is a major violation of public personal space. I decided to do my experiment on campus in the Union building. I walked around the halls until I found someone to test my violation on. I immediately felt uncomfortable as if I was doing something shameful or wrong. I started following less than one step behind my subject as they entered the building. Their initial reaction was to look and see who was behind them, most likely to see if they knew me.

After they glanced at me I could see their facial expression shift. They raised one eyebrow and their eyes slightly narrowed, but they turned back facing forward and continued walking. Their facial expression showed me that they were confused, they did not know who I was or why I was following them. Every few feet my subject would turn their head slightly, so they could see if I was still following closely behind. This signaled to me that they were uncomfortable with the situation, but they did not verbally express that. After about a minute the subject began to walk faster, so I adjusted my pace to keep up. The subject was obviously uncomfortable and was trying to remove themselves from the situation by ditching me.

The subject gripped their bag tightly with one hand and the other was shoved into their pocket. This was showing me that they felt threatened and anxious, they may have felt as if they were unsafe. At this point my subjects body language changed, they stood up straighter with their head pointed forward, and quickened their pace. Through the nonverbal cues I could tell they had no interest in finding out who I was or why I was walking so closely, instead they wanted to alleviate their discomfort and leave the interaction as quickly as possible. It is stated that “Although just about any part of the body can be used for communicating nonverbally, the face, hands, and arms are the primary kinesic channels through which nonverbal messages are sent” (Neulip, 2012, p. 290). I found this to be true, as those parts, primarily the hands and face were my biggest indicators of what my subject was trying to convey.

My subject never fully turned around to make eye contact with me or even attempted to speak to me, instead after about 5 minutes my subject headed in to a bathroom. Using non-verbal’s my subject never communicated discomfort, confusion and fear. From this violation of personal space in public I learned that being aware of nonverbal cues is important. I learned that people may not speak up even if they are uncomfortable. Being able to pick up on nonverbal cues and understand what they are trying to convey will make you a more culturally aware individual. It also showed me how much I rely on nonverbals personally in situations. Whether it be walking faster when I feel someone is too close to me or leaving an empty seat between me and another passenger on a bus. People regarding this code should always be aware of non-verbal cues and be as perceptive as possible.

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