Many of us work in a challenging environment and it seems that challenge begins when we walk into the office space. If we have reached the upper echelons it may be that we have our own clearly defined workspace but the vast majority are fixed in a cubicular world which mimics early psychological experiments. It’s a wonder we don’t implode, it’s amazing we are actually productive.
Edward Hall regarded by some as the great grandfather of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coined the term “proxemics”. This describes the space in which we feel comfortable in different contexts. With a large part of our lives spent at the office having space invaders encroaching on our spatial limits can impact on our performance. With cubicle space rapidly decreasing by as much as 50% in urban areas to increase cost efficacy environmental stress can have long reaching impacts on employee health, productivity and inter-cultural relations. Overcrowding in the animal kingdom leads to aggression and territorial tension but in the office do the polychrones inadvertently wind up the monochrones by borrowing ‘personal’ items and multitasking?
Space to think concentrate or think creatively is lacking in most office environments and whilst some are able to zone out and accept differences others can obsess on them seeking quieter spaces to perform. Personalisation of spaces, creation of physical barriers or feng shui may provide some cognitive solace against the shrinkage of personal space but ultimately we may be slaves to primal evolutionary forces. Research from Caltech shows that the amygdaloid region of the brain may hold the key as to why we maintain spatial distance from people, it indicates that this region is active during romantic approaches but also influences our fear response and holds emotional memory. One subject with damage to this region had no concept of personal space.
Creation of our own ‘personal bubble’ may not translate however across inter-cultural divides. Dubai is an extremely multi-cultural work environment, in the workplace you will hear different languages and experience different smells, tastes, dress, intonations, work ethics and cultural space boundaries. The question is whether you recognise them for what they are or react with your own defences seeing intrusion as a threat.
Edward Hall wisely said : We should never denigrate any other culture but rather help people to understand the relationship between their own culture and the dominant culture. When you understand another culture or language, it does not mean that you have to lose your own culture.