One of the worst things you can do is make someone feel threatened when you talk with them. It is important to be mindful of the physical space between you and another person. A safe rule is to put out your arm, fingers extended, at a 90 degree angle away from your body. Don’t stand any closer than that to a person you don’t know unless they have given you permission. If you want to make them feel even more comfortable, stand even further away.
Just because you work with someone doesn’t mean you have permission. The boundaries are even more important if you are a manager, or of the opposite gender. Physical space is the same as people’s homes. In the same way that you wouldn’t invite yourself over to someone’s home you don’t know, you shouldn’t stand right next to someone you don’t know.
Cornering is another thing to think about. You may not be close to them, but they may not be able to leave. Your conversation will go much more smoothly if you pay attention to their physical comfort. If you are mindful of their physical comfort, they will mentally feel more comfortable as well. A simple conversation can become a confrontation if someone feels physically threatened.
Consider whether they are literally up against the wall. Are they able to physically back away from where you are when you’re having a conversation? Even if they’re not up against the wall are you blocking their method of escape? They may not want to escape but if you physically block them then they will feel like they need too. If you are essentially trapping them in a room it is very threatening.
If you need to talk to a person who is sitting in a chair at a desk, be mindful of cornering them there. They are blocked on their front and back, and depending on the chair they are blocked on their sides as well. If you are within an arm’s length of them at the same time, you’ve just doubled their discomfort. If they have to look up into a light to talk to you, and at an angle, you’ve achieved the trifecta of terrible communication styles.
Having a conversation while standing up is also a bad idea. It will make the conversation more confrontational. Sit down if at all possible, and make sure you are both at eye level. Having a table between you can make the other person feel more comfortable. Be mindful though that it might establish a sense of hierarchy. If you are a manager and the conversation is at your desk, it will not be an equal conversation.
Also it is important for you to consider your body posture. Is it open or closed? Do you have your arms crossed in front of you? Do you have your legs crossed? Are you looking away from them? All of these are “closed” body postures and indicate to the listener that you aren’t listening to them. Do the opposite to let them know you are fully present.
If you want them to listen to you, then you have to make it look like you are listening to them by altering your body posture. But you have to get some sort of middle ground. It is important not to fling your arms around a lot. It is important not to open your legs up wide and scoot your pelvis towards them. Both of those are very aggressive moves. They are too open. Look for a balance and remain neutral, not too forward, not too far back.
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