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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 06-Apr-07


Friday 06-April-07

Elbow negotiations

On the train recently a chap sat down next to me and spread himself wide, including across the shared armrest between us. Not only did he hog the whole armrest, but he also -- shock, horror -- stuck his elbow over into my space. Elsewhere in the world I might have said something, but this is England and, as we had not been introduced, I could not politely say anything and could certainly not overtly shove back. However, I am a student of influence methods and was delighted at the opportunity to experiment.

The first thing I tried was simply not moving. Sprawlers are silent bullies who invade your space on the assumption that you will retreat. I thus signalled 'no retreat' by sustaining contact with him. Body contact is a taboo and I indicated immediately that if he was going to break taboos, then so could I.

The next trick was pressure. Using my breathing as an excuse and a force, I expanded my body a  I breathed in, thus increasing and decreasing pressure on his arm. We are programmed to notice sensory changes and, by the tension and shuffling I felt, I knew I was beginning to worry him.

After this I moved to rubbing, sliding my arm along his as I leaned back and fore. This movement, as other silent interaction, has to appear natural and not antagonistic. In my case I was writing a web page and randomly moved towards and away from the computer. The randomness also increased the tension for him as he could not predict the next move.

The technique worked, and he moved his arm back for a moment, at which I applied the next technique of 'shuffling and nibbling' to move my elbow a bit more onto the armrest. Then I tried a pacifier: I retreated a bit to see if he would accept a non-touch solution -- but sadly he declined and grabbed back the space.

Ah well, time for escalation. I reverted to movement. I also started down the auditory route, turning up my stereo, then coughing and blowing my nose. I stopped short of gaseous emissions, which should only be reserved for dire emergencies, of course.

By now, the packed train had thinned out and, as a seat opposite came free, he moved like a scalded cat. Comfortable in my victory and quietly entertained, I turned down the stereo.

Your comments


I've had many a similar experience on movie theatre armrests and on crowded flights.

You are so right- the no retreat policy definitely sends out a strong signal. I've started practicing it, over the last few years.

Earlier, I just used to wuss out and be uncomfortable. Its amazing how much intimidation can occur because of a simple invasion of armrest space.

-- Iossef V

A similar situation on an airline is when the seat belt sign goes out and the person sitting in front of you immediately slams their seat back to its full extended position. I had to suffer one woman who did this just before take off when the stewardess's where already seated and could not enforce the regulation. Assuming she would also do this upon landing, and taking advantage of the extremely cramped situation, I strategically wedged my knee lightly against her seat back as the stewardess made her last check through the cabin. Sure enough, a battle soon ensued between the arrogant force of discourtesy and the irresistible force of righteousness. After a minute she made a quiet appeal to her husband, but all he could do is roll his eyes and sigh. We landed safely.

-- Frederick Wahl

Dave replies:
Nice one Frederick! Unity Against the Space-Hogs!!

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