Why is it that men take up so much space? Moms always joke to me that having a house full of teen boys feels like living with a herd of elephants. Splaying legs and arms is actually a territorial display of dominance. In other words, when we make our body take up more physical space we are actually trying to claim it as our own and assert power.
More often than not, men do this more than women. This is because men often feel the need to claim power in a room or assert dominance and, evolutionary, women are trained that dominance or asserting power is negative for a female. Teen boys especially feel the need to assert dominance. This is because as they reach puberty and get closer to adulthood they have inner struggles with independence and their own manliness. Territorial splays for teen boys is a way for them to test the waters and attempt to show maturation.
Teen boys also use dominance displays as way of nonverbally communicating indifference to authority or rebellion. You will often see teen boys splay legs when being punished. They do this as a way to subconsciously push against their parent’s authority. Parents should actually correct this territorial display. According to former FBI agent and nonverbal behavior expert Joe Navarro, parents need to stop territorial splays right from the beginning to encourage teens to respect authority. He says that if parents allow teens to splay during a punishment it will be even harder to get teens to agree or understand what they did wrong. He tells parents they should have their teen boys (or girls) sit up, or move positions so they cannot attempt to achieve power with their body.
Understanding people’s nonverbal behavior is incredibly important. I challenge you to pay attention to when the men (or women) in your life use territorial splays to gain deeper understanding of their subliminal desire to assert control. This can better inform your decisions on how to interact with the people around you.
Joe Navarro, “What Every Body is Saying”