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As highlighted in the latest issue of Mudita’s newsletter, both chronemics - the study of the use of time in non-verbal communication - and proxemics - the study of human use of space and the effects that population density has on behaviour, communication, and social interaction - are heavily influenced by power dynamics, and concerned with dominance and status (*).


- "One who is in the position to cause another to wait has power over him. To be kept waiting is to imply that one's time is less valuable than that of the one who imposes the wait." (Guerrero, DeVito & Hecht);

According to research, when it comes to chronemics someone’s social status can be determined by three different factors:

- waiting time;

- talk time;

- work time.

Waiting time: researchers Insel and Lindgren claimed that “the act of making an individual of a lower stature wait is a sign of dominance”, and theorized that while “Employees of equal stature will not worry about whether they are running a few minutes behind schedule to meet with one another”, “for a mid-level manager who has a meeting with the company president, a late arrival might be a non-verbal cue that you do not respect the authority of your superior”.

Expressions of power and status in non-verbal communication

Talk time: social psychologist Nancy Henley noted that “Subordinates are expected to yield to superiors and there is a cultural expectation that a subordinate will not interrupt a superior”, while Professor Albert Mehrabian pointed out that “deviation from this pattern led to negative perceptions of the subordinate by the superior”.

Expressions of power and status in non-verbal communication


Work time: with regard to working hours, it has been observed that “as power and status in an organization increases, the flexibility of the work schedule also increases”, and that “individuals who spend more time, especially spare time, to meetings, to committees, and to developing contacts, are more likely to be influential decision makers”.

Expressions of power and status in non-verbal communication


With regard to proxemics and territorial behavior (introduction to the concept of territoriality available here), research suggests that “[…] occupying higher positions usually means being introduced to a bigger desk and a larger office. In extreme situations top officials occupy vast rooms which symbolize nothing more but status. As stated by the authors of Discourses in Place, ‘all of the signs and symbols take a major part of their meaning from how and where they are placed’. And this is predominantly the major territorial communication in our times – the bigger space occupied by you and your belongings, the more important, influential and rich you must be." (Sobocinski).

Such theory was previously introduced by Sociology Professor Mark Baldassarre, who claimed that “Space can be considered as a resource, and thus control over space and a greater ability to use it for attaining one's goals can be a major benefit. Therefore, we should systematically study the social and psychological impacts of not only the amount of area per person but also differential control over space. This readily brings to mind the fact that people of low status (e.g. the urban poor, the child in the crowded household) may have less of a claim to space when it is in high demand than do people of high status (the urban affluent, adults in the home). Therefore, it would be important to examine the differential impact of dense conditions on those with high status vs those with low status. Actual power over spatial use should minimize overload and allow one to conduct desired activities with less interference, while less power would lead to more interruptions and the inability to conduct preferred activities. Studies of control and crowding should thus concentrate on differences between those within collectivities who have more or less social power in their everyday environments."

The topic of space usage in relation to power and privilege seems to be especially relevant today, in the context of remote work and virtual meetings:

How do folks hold power and privilege in virtual spaces? Some folks are better set up than others — some have more access to the hardware and software needed to show up fully on virtual platforms, while others have to navigate space, time, and other factors (e.g. care work, location privacy) more creatively in order to be fully present. This gives some people an advantage over others, like in many other spaces. To name a few privileges and dynamics in greater detail:

- Designated work space – people who have a designated quiet, private, well-lit space where they can connect, those who have a house, bedroom, home office to work from and concentrate within…” (Arellano)

Expressions of power and status in non-verbal communication

On a related note, among the expressions of dominance and power displayed in virtual meetings, the author lists some privileges concerned with the first point discussed on this post: talk time.

Those privileges include:

- “Speaking more than one’s fair share, monologuing or always having to respond to every comment”;

- “Interrupting, both preventing others from completing their comments, but also inhibiting the flow of the dialogue”.

The full guide to "Power Dynamics and Inclusion in Virtual Meetings" can be found here, while a previous post on the implications of socio-emotional distance in virtual teams is available at this link.


(*): “Power can be conceptualized as an outcome or perception that arises from actual or implied authority, expertise, capacity to bestow rewards, capacity to withhold or apply punishments, persuasive abilities, or possession of interpersonal qualities with which others may identify”, while dominance - one route by which people gain or exert power - “can be thought of as a method or set of behaviors”. (Burgoon & Bacue, 2003)




- Andersen, P. A., & Bowman, L. L. (1999). “Positions of power: Nonverbal influence in organizational communication”. In L. K. Guerrero, J. A. DeVito, & M. L. Hecht (Eds.), “The nonverbal communication reader: Classic and contemporary readings” (pp. 317–334). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press

- Arellano, E. “Power Dynamics and Inclusion in Virtual Meetings”. Online.

-Baldassare, M. (1978). “Human Spatial Behavior”. Annual Review of Sociology, 4, 29-56 []

Burgoon, J. K., & Bacue, A. E. (2003).  “Nonverbal communication skills”. In J. O. Greene & B. R. Burleson (Eds.), “Handbook of communication and social interaction skills” (pp. 179–219). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Guerrero, Laura K., DeVito, Joseph A.,Hecht, Michael L. (Eds.) (1999). ”The nonverbal communication reader: classic and contemporary readings”. Prospect Heights, Ill. : Waveland Press

Sobocinski, Mikolaj. (2010). “On Proxemics and Territoriality in Communicative Behaviour of Man - A Communique.” [].

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you decided to buy any of the products listed here, I would earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


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