Body Language in Elevators, College Classes, and Waiting Rooms: The Hidden Rules

I’ve actually studied body language for quite some time. Yes, I’ve read the books and learned the terminology and all that nonsense, but most of my experience with body language I learned by myself, by making my own observations in public areas and drawing similar conclusions to what the “experts” have asserted.

Some of the most fascinating displays of body language that I see occur in three places: elevators, waiting rooms, and college classes. It seems as though there is an “unspoken list of rules” that people must abide by while in these locations, otherwise they could inadvertently cause others to feel uneasy or uncomfortable. Have you ever been having a normal conversation with someone and then walked into an elevator, where suddenly everything goes silent? Did you ever notice how when others enter the elevator, they almost always take the “corners” instead of just standing in the middle? Ever notice how their eyes are either fixed on the elevator doors or their cell phones?

So why do people do these things in an elevator? Well, to start with, elevators are theoretically uncomfortable, even despite their short ride time. It’s like everything in life comes to a halt when you’re entering an elevator; there could a massive earthquake going on and people STILL wouldn’t say a word. This is because you are shoved into a small, enclosed space with those who you are not familiar with. Your survival instincts kick in and tell you to proceed with caution, since you don’t know what others are capable of, you don’t know if they will judge or not, and you don’t know if they will be friendly or mean. Thus, it’s best to find your own “nook” in the corner somewhere and avoid making eye contact, which is what we will generally do.

But that’s only the half of it, the other half has to do with personal space. Elevators are a CLEAR violator of this. Someone’s “personal space,” according to all the books, is defined as approximately 4 feet from where you are standing. The intimate space is defined as 1.5 feet. What happens when 10 people all cram into the elevator with you? Well, most begin to feel uneasy, nervous, butterflies in stomach, and even anxiety. Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Some people, who are overly obnoxious and couldn’t care less about other peoples’ personal space, will stand next to you, have a loud cell phone conversation and eat potato chips at the same time. The majority, however, you will find abide by the hidden etiquette mentioned earlier.

College classes (and I’m only talking about the first week of classes where nobody is familiar with each other) and waiting rooms fall under a similar category as elevators, but it’s a bit different. Have you ever walked into waiting room or college class and noticed that nobody will EVER sit in the seat directly next to the other person unless they are forced to? Instead they will generally sit one or two seats away from them. Once again, this has to do with their personal space not being invaded, but it directly negates one being social, unless they choose to do so, of course. In waiting rooms especially, a cell phone is the equivalent to a child’s teddy bear. It actually causes it’s user to feel safety and comfort by appearing to others that they are somehow “busy” doing something else while in the socially uncomfortable environment. It’s interesting, though, because if you ever get a chance to peak over at what these people are doing on their cell phones, I can assure you that it’s nothing significant most of the time. A lot of them will check text messages that have already been read hours ago, aimlessly surf the web for random things, or play games using their apps. This is ALL to avoid the awkward eye contact that is associated with sitting across from someone else. Also loud noise or conversation is big no-no in these environments. The second you start having a conversation, everyone will immediately turn your way and listen in. They will make silent judgments about your voice, your body, your character, and how you are energetically perceived to them. And actually, this happens even when you’re not having a conversation.

College classrooms/hallways (the first week of class) are extremely interesting. Here you are dealing with younger adults who are mostly very self-conscious, especially if they are only freshman. Most people will line up outside of the classroom, searching aimlessly for things on their cell phone, or be looking down at the floor to avoid eye contact with others. They will also be comparing other people to themselves and  making silent judgments, or finding who the most attractive person in the crowd is. Women, especially, will glance up a few times at their person of interest but will not lock eye contact since they don’t want to be “caught.” It’s understood that nobody say a word to each other while waiting to go into class or it will be construed as “awkward.” Why is this? It’s due to the social pressure of speaking during pure silence and others thinking you might be obnoxious if your break these hidden social rules. Oh, and the sitting one or two seats across from someone instead of next to them? Yup, that happens in college classrooms too. Someone will only sit next to you if the class is full and they are forced to, in order to avoid their personal space being violated and also the social awkwardness of not knowing you. I’m not saying that everyone in these environments behave like this, but from my observations, most do.



Posted on January 28, 2014, in Daily Rantings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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