Proxemic language is perhaps one of the most overlooked forms of communication.

Speech and writing receive almost all our attention, making us assume that most of the information we must express and interpret is contained there; and non-verbal language is greatly undervalued. Within the latter category, however, we tend to consider only sign language and prosody. We do not realize that there is much world beyond these elements.

In this article we will see what proxemic language is and how it influences both our relationships and the meanings we express.

Proxemic language: a definition

Let’s start with the basics. We understand by proxemic language a type of non-verbal communication based on the distances maintained between two bodies, as well as with the location of people in certain spaces.

Although it is a way of transmitting meanings in an implicit way and appealing to our most emotional side , this does not make proxemic language a very valuable tool when it comes to communicating. In fact, the meaning of a whole sentence, no matter how long it is, can be totally altered depending on how we use it.

In addition, proxemic language takes into account the movements that are made by moving the whole body when going from one point to another. In other words, it does not study distances as if they were a simple variable that we find in “frozen images”, but it looks at the before and after. It is not the same to get close to a person by walking 20 meters as it is to coincide in an elevator.

The usefulness of this form of communication

Fundamentally, proxemic language serves to express ideas that belong to two different axes of meaning: the degree of intimacy and the degree of hostility.


Intimacy is greater the smaller the distance between two people. Besides, hand in hand with intimacy goes the idea that you want to connect emotionally with the other, that you empathize. That is why some negotiation techniques use the resource of getting closer to the other person little by little so that he or she accepts the idea that the other person is looking for the good of both through the treatment he or she proposes.


Unlike intimacy, there is no direct relationship between the distance between people and the degree to which this attitude is present. In fact, hostility is communicated through unusually small or unusually large distances . In the first case, the intention is to express the will to dominate the other, while in the second case distrust and a defensive attitude are shown.

Spaces and contexts in which it is applied

The functioning of proxemic language varies greatly depending on the type of space a person is in. And the fact is that no relationship simply occurs in a vacuum; there is always a context that conditions us. Proxemics, in the end, are social: they function on the basis of what one knows that the other knows, and the different environments generate expectations in both the sender and the receiver.

Now, what are the different types of spaces on which proxemic language depends? The main ones are the following.

1. Public space

As its name suggests, this context is one in which anyone can participate in what is happening. In proxemic language, it is a space in which there is a speaker and a crowd of people attending to what he does or says.

The distance between the sender and the receivers is usually large, several meters if possible, since there are many people participating in the exchange of information and it is necessary to make it clear that the message is addressed to everyone.

2. Social space

This type of context belongs to the sphere of the professional, the formal and the meetings with commercial purposes . The typical distance between the people involved is usually one to three metres.

3. Personal space

Personal space is defined by its informal character, in which it is evident that there is at least one significant emotional or affective connection. It occurs between friends, family or co-workers who know each other well. The situations it favours are characterised by the fact that the distance between people is less than one metre .

4. Intimate space

Those who use this type of space as a form of proxemic language (in addition to other utilities) are people whose relationship is intimate, such as couples, close relatives or longtime friends.

Here, the typical distance can range from a few tens of centimetres to direct physical contact .

Cultural Variations

The distances maintained between people according to the type of space they are in can vary greatly depending on the type of culture they belong to.

Thus, for example, the countries of Northern Europe and South-East Asia are characterized by the use of proxy bias towards relatively large interpersonal distances.

However, the countries bordering the Mediterranean, those belonging to Latin America and many of those belonging to the Middle East and Africa, are characterised by the normalisation of much smaller interpersonal spaces, as well as by a great deal of recourse to physical contact even between relative strangers.