Territoriality describes the set of rules that govern the space around our bodies with emphasis on how we communicate ownership. A territory is defined as the space or area around a person that is claimed as their own, to the exclusion, or inclusion, of all others as they see fit. As a species, we have clear definitions and rules protecting ownership of our possessions for the purpose of maintaining order and reducing conflict. “Proxemics” is the study of how people use space. There are four distances by which people interact. They are the “intimate distance” where only about eight inches or less separates two people, the “personal distance” from eighteen inches to five feet, the “social distance” which is from five to ten feet and the “public distance” which is from ten feet to twenty-five feet. We tolerate intimate distances for embracing, touching, or whispering from sexual partners, family members and occasionally, even friends.
Personal space is reserved for good friends and those of whom we have a fairly high level of trust. Invading people’s space can cause anxiety, irritation, anger or fear. The social distance is reserved for acquaintances that we perhaps don’t fully trust yet, but otherwise need to interact with, and the public distance is for addressing large audiences. In the public distance, we maintain enough space to make eye contact with all the members and enough space to permit escape should our presentation go awry! Shrinking space is a way for people to tell you that they enjoy you, and your company, and one that you should not take offence to, but rather use as a measure of someone’s level of comfort. On the other hand, your partner will signal that you are encroaching on them by taking a step backwards. If it isn’t possible to step back your partner will show cues of encroachment such as pulling their heads backwards and away. Others might just show a bigger smile (possibly showing stress) and simply pretend that nothing is bothering them, but as soon as eye contact is broken or when their speaking partner is distracted, will take a step back. Others still, can pull their arms away to reserve space or can use their hand on the sleeve of the other to keep them from advancing. Ventral access denial by shielding the chest in an arm cross, or ventral fronting, or lack of fronting, that is turning the body away or toward, are also cues people use to show proximity acceptance or rejection.