There are unwritten rules for the distance people should remain from each other to maintain a level of personal and professional comfort.
When someone gets too close, you immediately feel it. For example, the proximity to a mate or close friend is different than a stranger at a networking event.
Personal space is represented by an imaginary circle around each person that contracts or expands in different circumstances. When talking to a friend or acquaintance, 2 to 4 feet is a comfortable distance, but on a packed plane or at a concert, people will generally tolerate sitting or standing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers.
As with any form of body language, you are sending a message, whether you are aware of it or not. Good habits can enhance your interactions with others, while bad ones create problems. Follow these guidelines to keep your space and reputation intact.
It’s All About the Relationship
The closer you are to another, the nearer you can stand. Before you reach out to touch someone, consider how it will be received. A light pat on the back can be intended as an affectionate gesture or an extension of goodwill. But it can also be interpreted as an overly familiar touch that can seem invasive or condescending. Personal space is generally two to five feet. Public space is approximately 12 feet, social space is five to ten feet and intimate space is two feet.
Hugs are Situational
A warm embrace is a thoughtful greeting among friends and family, while other times it can be unwelcome. You must know the recipient fairly well before reaching out and leaning forward. In business, a handshake is the most appropriate gesture, conveying warmth without infringing on another person’s space.
People’s Backgrounds Shape Their Space Needs
Personal space varies by country and geographic locations. This can create problems when you are unaware of their customs. When visiting another country, do your homework to ensure you are familiar and comfortable with their habits.
Noise can be an imposition on others. This includes being on the phone in a public space, such as a restaurant, the gym, a subway or other places where people can’t escape your conversation. Coupled with the fact many people talk louder when communicating on the phone, and sound boundaries can quickly become annoying. A good rule of thumb is to remain eight to ten feet away from the next person to protect your privacy.
Gently Defend Your Territory
Requesting someone “step back” is socially awkward. However, there are certain moves which will help keep you a comfortable distance apart. One example is to take a step back, out of the invasive boundary of the other person. Holding a beverage in front of you is another way to keep someone at bay. And finally, excusing yourself may be the ultimate choice when all else fails.
For more of Diane’s etiquette tips, you may enjoy Strategies for Becoming a Better Communicator. Read her posts on Inc., subscribe to her articles on HuffPost, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Buy her new book, Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.