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Close Up – The ConsumHERist

Posted on | May 21, 2009 | No Comments

by Delia Passi

I recently read about a research finding that demonstrated conclusively that “wimps hear dangerous noises differently.”  After wondering why anyone felt compelled to research this kind of thing, I pondered whether I could apply this information to selling to women.

After all, women are generally the more delicate (i.e. smaller) gender and are at least stereotyped to be more fearful than men.  I know it is true in my home.  I suspect every noise and my husband suspects none of them.  He just rolls his eyes, struggles out of his recliner, shoots wildly out the window and returns to the TV.  (Just kidding.  He takes careful aim, but always misses every monster.)

So how does this wimp business apply to selling to women?  I’m not sure it does, directly, but it got me to thinking about personal space.  Everyone, and every culture, has their own definition of personal space, the distance in which they are comfortable with different people.  There is intimate space, which for Americans is typically from zero to 18 inches.  Beyond that range is personal space, about 4 feet, and beyond that is social space and then public space.  When a stranger gets inside of your intimate space you can get very uncomfortable.

Russians have a much tighter personal space, so you can get closer to them without making them uncomfortable.  The same is true of Latinos.  Europeans prefer a slightly greater distance than Americans and Asians prefer even more distance.  Try to picture a Russian woman talking to a Japanese woman at a party and chasing her around the room as they both try to adjust the distance to their own comfort.

Women also tend to prefer a greater distance than men, although they are more comfortable with other women being closer than with men at the same distance.

In a selling situation, a male salesman may get closer to a woman customer than she is comfortable with, so it is a good idea to keep a little more distance than one would with another male.  Perhaps a good rule of thumb would be to stay out of easy reach.  (And of course touch is really taboo with women customers.)  Here are some telltale signs that you are getting too close for comfort:

  • Rocking back in chair creating more space between you both.
  • Pulling the chin into the chest and hunching of the shoulders.
  • Closed eyes.
  • Looking past you at others behind you.
  • Tapping fingers and/or swinging leg.
  • Defensive gestures like arms folded across chest.
  • Attempts to move away unobtrusively.

The comfort zone for each person is a matter of individual preferences, and you may find men who are more uncomfortable with a given distance than many women.  Extroverts will allow you closer than introverts, and so on, so it is just best to keep an eye out for those subtle body language indications and adjust accordingly.

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