Spatial Safety


This past week, a young European attorney visiting the office for 2 weeks was escorted around by an aging middle manager. She was introducing him to individual staff members. I was in my cubicle spinning in my swivel chair. Where else would I be? My chair is set low to the ground (to facilitate my fantasy of crawling under my desk).

As a result, these 2 unexpected visitors towered over me. It was like sitting at the kid’s table on Thanksgiving.

Should I have risen up in my cubicle? Would you go to a movie theater and stand in front of your seat to watch the film? The space is too confined. Makes no sense.

To make matters worse, the middle manager prolonged their visit by flirting with the guy. Telling him he looked like Superman, after which he fluffed up his suit jacket, making it into a cape. She then alluded to Clark Kent a beat too late, thus intensifying everyone’s mortification (at which point, I was grateful to be so low to the ground).

At last, they moved on. 

My head lit up. I rummaged through my desk drawers and found a 12-inch truncated ruler (one of its inches was missing). I slid the clear plastic tool along the flat surfaces inside The Cube, foot-by-foot, measuring the space and using my index finger as a placeholder.

Turns out, my cubiculum* measures 6 feet square. Give or take.

When you factor in the desktop and its extensions, which are permanently bracketed to the inside of The Cube, the space left over for my rolling swivel chair (with arms) and slide-out keyboard is about 3 square feet. The chair itself inhabits about a 2 square-foot area of space or more.

I can barely move around in the chair. Sometimes, when I’m forced, I will propel the chair into the narrow alley between cubicles with a swift kick of my foot and watch it roll.

This problem of not enough space is analyzed in a book called The Silent Language, by Edward Hall. In it, he introduces the science of  “proxemics” (and explains how a person’s use of space can affect personal and business relationships).

According to Hall, the brain has an evolved sense of spatial safety. When boundaries are crossed (as in those listed below), certain regions of the brain, like the amygdala, are activated and driven into threat mode:

  • An 18-inch zone is reserved around each of us for “intimate space”
  • From 18 inches to 4 feet, acquaintances and colleagues are invited in
  • From 4 feet to 12 feet is the orbit for strangers or new colleagues

According to these measurements, Superman and the aging middle manager violated me on every level!

Note to self:  Buy a yard stick, box of chalk markers and Kryptonite.


(*cubiculum: a burial chamber, as in the catacombs )




  1. I can totally relate, I’ll send photo of my cube soon. It’s like working in a play pen. Not only do we not have enough desk space but now under the desk are a ton of boxes that I was told they have no space for storage. Great, no work area, no leg space. Why don’t they just curl me up and throw me under the desk as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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