Opening up to someone is often taken at face value, as a way to show our trust towards another person. However, we tend to forget to consider the other party. Though we may be comfortable sharing our thoughts, the person listening may not be equally comfortable. Similarly, this also applies to engagement in physical contact, such as hugging or even something as simple as patting someone’s back. It takes wisdom to first notice their boundaries, and maturity to respect theirs.
The diagram above is a simple, but accurate enough representation of a person’s “social boundary”, which is the extent to which a person can tolerate your approach. As observed above, a person would normally have varying levels of boundaries depending on the topic. Once these boundaries are determined, our aim is to stay in the region closest to the boundary without overstepping. This region is the ideal space where not only will you be able to get to know the person, but also push their boundaries back and discover the layers to their personality.
Disclaimer: This tool/theory is something I made, so I have no scientific proof over its usefulness
Taking into consideration where/when they were born, how they grew up, and the types of people that this person mingle with are crucial when deciding the proper approach towards someone. There are surface level information that we are able to pick up before approaching someone, like the clothes they wear and their simple mannerisms (how they talk (accents), walk, greet others, etc.). These are adequate indications to deduce the three important variables that I believe will determine the suitable type of approach: age, country of origin, and introvert/extrovert dynamic, which will be discussed in detail, here.
Unfortunately, there are instances where the person we want to approach are showing very limited hints as to what type of person they are. People would typically assume that this type of person doesn’t want to be approached. However, that is not always the case.
Everyone has a unique set of expressions that they display, which may contradict others’ almost to the extent of polar opposites. Unless the person shows a clear sign of being unavailable at that point in time, don’t get disheartened and still try to approach them in a friendly manner.
Less is More
Whether it be verbal communication or physical contact, when unsure of where to draw the line, it’s better to step back and underperform, as opposed to overshooting it. Just like with anyone you’d approach, they all have different levels of tolerance and types of judgment. You can easily leave a lasting bad impression when stepping over their social boundary. People are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to people who may possibly act too timid and/or formal relative to the occasion, as they would be perceived as shy. Meanwhile, those who act too familiar tend to be perceived as insensitive and “dense”.
In the end, it’s always about finding the balanced approached to deal with the unique boundaries people set. With enough practice, determining where the boundaries lie will be second nature, and you’ll appear more approachable.