I made a lazy mistake on the subway a few weeks ago; I made eye contact with the homeless guy walking through the train car asking for money. I was watching him and waiting to see how people responded to his requests and how they reacted to his advances. I was looking for Proxemic Pushes but as I got caught up watching, I also wasn’t disguising my interest. Inevitably, eye contact was made and the situation changed from Proxemic Pushes to a Proxemic Pull. I was watching him be Proxemically Pulled to me.
It all started with the eye contact, he took that as permission to approach, a sign that I invited him to move from the social space to the personal space. You can see the same thing happening outside Madison Square Garden before a NY Rangers game (or any other sporting event) as the people scalping tickets are trying to make eye contact with people going to the game so the scalper can approach and try to sell their tickets. It isn’t always just eye contact that creates the Proxemic Pull; it might be an eyebrow flash, where you raise your eyebrows up, a common sign of acknowledgement or recognition between people. It might be a head nod, a similar gesture. Whether you are trying to pick someone up in a bar, or are a con man trying to find an easy target, it starts by finding a reason to approach the person.
If you look at the guy on the lower right side of the picture trying to sell his CDs on the Vegas strip, he is trying to create the same situation. As he makes eye contact with the guy on the left side of the picture in the red shirt, he starts his approach because he has gotten the “permission” he was looking for to try to sell his CD and start the conversation.
By the second picture he has closed most of the distance and has started his pitch as to why the guy should buy the CD. If the third picture in the sequence wasn’t out of focus, you would see that the guy moved in and placed himself in front of the man in the red shirt, blocking him on the sidewalk. The guy in the red had to move around him because he wasn’t interested in the CD. Again, it all started with the eye contact.
If you think about the indicators from the Interested vs. Uninterested cluster, you can identify cues that would let you know when a person is truly interested in something and not trying to hide it. If you were walking through a mall, what would your body language look like when you found the store that you wanted to go into? Your feet, torso, and eyes would all likely be oriented at the store because that is where you are intending to go. Compare the image you have of that situation to one where you were walking past a store that you hadn’t planned on entering. You may glance inside as you walk past, but unless something attracts your attention, you would only give off one indicator (eye contact) that you are interested and not a complete cluster of interested behaviors (eyes, torso, feet all facing object of interest).
We care about starting conversations with those that we believe are anomalies because in non-combat zones, this is how you will confirm your observations. This is how you will practice and develop your ability to profile. This means you are going to have to start conversations with people that don’t fit in and find resourceful ways to do it.
How are you going to create the opportunity to start that conversation? Unless you enjoy walking up to people out of the blue, you need to start by creating a Proxemic Pull. Find a reason to draw their attention to you, and the conversation will naturally follow. By understanding the different body language cues of the Interested vs. Uninterested cluster you will be prepared to identify any changes in your target’s behavior and quickly realize if you have gained their complete attention or if you risk losing it all together.
About The Author: Patrick Van Horne
More posts by Patrick Van Horne