TODAY   |  August 01, 2013

How to not be awkward: Dealing with tight spaces

Being crammed in a small space with a crowd of strangers is not a lot of fun, but there are ways to minimize the awkwardness. Body language expert Patti Wood gives TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie tips on minimizing the discomfort of being on a tiny elevator with a lot of people.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now part two of our series how not to be awkward. this morning close encounters with strangers. there's no doubt about it, being crammed with a crowd of random people isn't that fun. up high, down low, or simply in between, it's not always pretty.

>> my personal space bubble gets violated a lot.

>> subtract space , add strangers, and you've got a random recipe for awkward.

>> awkward.

>> feeling awkward is a form of anxiety. it's kind of anxiety light. we don't like unfamiliar people in our intimate space .

>> i can't be too close to somebody. it freaks me out.

>> i'm the one that makes everyone else feel awkward, yes.

>> transit is troublesome.

>> people will stand close to you.

>> long lines are inescapable.

>> i need them to back off.

>> it's awkward when people try to edge you out of line because you feel they're invading your personal space . just back up.

>> then there's the rear sneaker upper, who's too close for comfort.

>> give me some space .

>> awkward.

>> there's also sky-high stranger danger .

>> airplanes are always the worst.

>> from arm rest wars.

>> do i get an arm rest? do i not get an arm rest?

>> i am an arm rest hog.

>> to unwanted chat.

>> i'm talkingin, making eye contact.

>> or even the sleeping stranger who's landed on your shoulder.

>> awkward.

>> and topping the awkward charts, the quintessential human lock box , the elevator.

>> the elevators are the worst thing because some people do want to chat it up.

>> i try to look forward and not look at anybody.

>> do i really see them? do they want to talk to somebody? do they not?

>> do you try digital avoidance?

>> if people have earbuds in, i don't talk to them.

>> close encounters of the awkward kind.

>> this is my space . back off. give me a little breathing room .

>> so how do you tackle those awkward close encounters ? patty wood right here is a body language expert, author of "snap, making the most of first impressions, body language and charisma." good morning to you. we're really close. i had a lot of coffee this morning. i want to apologize to the whole grup. we're going to talk about awkward encounters in an elevator which we've having at the moment. this is primitive, right, our desire to have a little space .

>> it's a primitive brain response, and we actually respond as if we are in danger. you've heard of fight/flight response. it's actually freeze in place, want to flee, get big and want to fight, or try to get really, really small.

>> what is the ideal psychological distance? if we had our druthers, how far would we be from the next person?

>> in north america , the ideal is actually four feet. it's not going to happen here.

>> no way.

>> it extends out from the body 18 inches. we're too close in that space as well. ideally, face front. protect the front of your body.

>> if you're in an elevator like this, people do what these guys are doing. just pretend like this isn't happening.

>> absolutely. electronic devices feed the eco ecocenters of your brain. you can have a little high and make you feel more in control of the situation. so you have an extra benefit.

>> what if you have a fight on a bus or train or airplane, and you're fighting over the arm rest?

>> it's interesting, men over 40 fight more. actually turn, tilt your head. that shows your submissive, and you're not going to fight with them, and smile and request more room.

>> what about the lines where somebody gets too close behind you, to put a little pressure on.

>> and it's interesting because it makes us want to puff up and get big and get alpha, and we want to use the big old purse to whap them on the side of the head. again, a nonassertive response is to realize there's that body bubble. for guys -- we want to be side by side . for guys, they feel more protected and safe in that position. in a line, you can get side by side . the stress goes down.

>> good advice, patty. remember in dirty dancing when he said this is my dance space , this is your dance space . i've about t i've got to get out of here, guys. this is freaking me out. tomorrow, the meet and greet. do you hug your boss? a provocative question. back