On a recent flight, I noticed how many passengers immediately put on their headsets or ear buds and then turn their focus to an electronic device. Often there is no greeting or even eye contact with the people sitting next to them. The clear message is, “I do not want to engage with you.” In a study on open-concept offices, similar behaviors were seen. Employees spent most of their workday with their headphones on, using their phones or computers. When they communicated to co-workers – even those sitting near them – they opted for email, texts or IM – not talking to them. As a result, face-to-face communications decreased by more than 70% compared to offices with defined individual workspaces.
HEADPHONES SIGNAL “DO NOT DISTURB.”
The researchers were surprised that removing the structural barriers didn’t lead to more interaction between co-workers. That was the goal of the open space design. They didn’t anticipate the high level of discomfort humans would feel when they were denied their own defined personal space. To block out the distractions and to create a “private” space, employees built their own invisible walls with their headphones. That nonverbal signal set boundaries and sent a clear message that “I am busy and do not want to talk to you.”
AIRLINE SEATING FORCES THE SAME LOSS OF PERSONAL SPACE.
On an airplane we often have the added discomfort of being seated next to a complete stranger. That explains the immediate move to set boundaries with our headphones and electronics. I get it, but can’t help but wonder if it’s a missed opportunity.
WHAT’S YOUR NONVERBAL STRATEGY ON FLIGHTS – HEADPHONES OR CONVERSATIONS?