“A number of relatives whom I love dearly suffer from progressive hearing loss significant enough to require the speaker to shout. I find it nearly impossible to do this when carrying on a conversation without sounding harsh and without my sentiments eventually changing to match my voice. How do I maintain a conversational tone when speaking at top decibel.”
The above was a letter to a Boston Globe etiquette advice columnist. The writer brilliantly identified the problem: that when she had to shout to be heard, her emotions soon followed with harsh feelings.
While you may not have relatives with significant hearing loss, the wrong arrangement of furniture in a gathering room can have the same effect – people shouting at each other with voices and feelings becoming harsh.
Architectural Psychology has studied this phenomenon and measured what is the ideal distance, face-to-face, for relaxed conversation. It is 2-4 feet, the measurement nose-to-nose, or more significantly eye-to-eye and ear-to-ear. Beyond that distance you will have to stretch your voice and energy to connect. And then you wonder why everyone avoids that room, or why television watching is the only activity in that space.
An example is the photo at right which shows a couple seated on park benches too far apart for easy conversation. The woman in the photo is sitting on the edge of her seat and leaning forward in an attempt to bridge the interpersonal distance between herself and the man.
Most people reflexively place their furniture against the walls. This is often shown in decorating magazines and television shows with the thought this makes the room look larger. What is lost is a sense of connection and coziness. But furniture, even in smaller homes, should be arranged for ease of conversation. Ideally, cluster your furniture for relaxed speaking and good eye contact when you gather with friends and family.
- Working with a client I reconfigured her sectional sofa, so the seats – and her family members – faced each other, instead of the television. She was extremely happy with the significant improvement in family interactions this simple change created.
- Another client told me moving her son’s favorite chair 18 inches brought him into the family conversational circle and a greater sense of inclusion in her family – and no was aware of his feeling of being on the periphery until after the change.
- The solution can be as simple as moving chairs and sofas 6 inches closer to each other.
- Or you may need to “float” a conversational grouping in the room – and anchor it in relation to a fireplace or window.
Photo by clairity