Personal Space: How Close Is Too Close?
Tue, April 20, 2021

Personal Space: How Close Is Too Close?

Gaining admittance to enter someone’s personal space is dependent upon the level of relationship between the two individuals / Photo by: Ozgur Coskun via Shutterstock

 

Researchers have categorized a group of people as “space invaders.” The wonder of wonders, can these be the rumored aliens from outer space? Do they really exist? Unfortunately, space invaders do exist. They are, however, not aliens invading Planet Earth, but people who lack respect for personal boundaries.

The term “personal space” generally refers to the bodily distance between two people in a family, work, or social setting regarded as psychologically theirs. Nearly everyone values their personal space and feels uncomfortable, anxious, or angered when this space is invaded. Gaining admittance to enter someone’s personal space is dependent upon the level of relationship between the two individuals. There is an intimate space for lovers and close family members, an intermediary space for friends for chatting and discussions, and a greater space for acquaintances or strangers. Basically, personal space is intimately tied to the relationship between individuals involved and their sense of familiarity with one another.

In addition, it is also culturally defined. Over the course of time, personal sense of space has changed and evolved as it varies across existing circumstances.

Determinants of Interpersonal Space

Interpersonal distance is primarily affected by the type of interactions between two individuals. Edward Hall, an American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher, classified four typical types of interactions: the intimate distance between lovers at 0-18 inches, personal distance between close friends at 18-48 inches, social distance with business associates at 4-12 feet, and public distance meetings at 12-25 feet or more. It is also to an extent influenced by what the person wants to achieve. For example, if he wants affiliation or belongingness, he may sit closer to that person or group.

In some studies, it was found that variance in personal space is connected to sex. Two men require more lengthy personal space compared to two women. It was also observed that older people preferred more distance when talking with an acquaintance.

Another finding revealed that personal space appears to grow bigger from childhood to adolescence. Across countries, the correlation between preferred personal distance and preferred social distance was strong. Hall views cultural norms as the most significant factor in establishing the preferred social distances. According to him, society is grouped into two categories: contact and non-contact cultures. Contact cultures favor closer space and engage in more touching. Some contact cultures include Argentina, Peru, and other Latin America countries whereas non-contact cultures include Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Northern Europe.

Interpersonal distance is primarily affected by the type of interactions between two individuals / Photo by: Paya Mona via Shutterstock

 

In summary, the following are the factors that influence personal space:

Age: Studies suggest that personal space gets bigger as age advances. Children are likely happy to be physically close to each other but alter as adult sexuality develops.

Gender: Men interacting with other men need the biggest interpersonal distance, followed by women interacting with other women, and finally men interacting with women.

Personality: Extrovert people with gregarious nature tend to need smaller personal space whereas confrontational and detach people require a bigger interpersonal distance.

Relationship: The more intimate the people, the closer the interpersonal distance.

Status: The greater the difference in status, the bigger the interpersonal distance. There is no evidence regarding personal space between same status individuals.

Culture: The size of personal space varies across cultures within the categories identified by Hall. He also pointed out that the invasion of personal space is an indication of aggression in many cultures.

Etiquette Governing Personal Space

The following are the general rules to guide people in their professional and social protocols when dealing with personal space.

1. In no way should anyone you do not know be touched.

2. Whatever your intentions, do not touch anyone else’s children.

3. Keep your distance to someone you do not know well to at least 4 feet.

4. Take a step back when somebody leans away from you as this may mean an invasion to her personal space.

5. In movie houses or theaters, leave an extra seat between you and the next person if not crowded. It is normal to sit beside another if the room is crowded.

6. Do not be rude to lean on someone else’s shoulder to read news, report, or commentaries if not asked.

7. Do not be touchy with persons you do not know well.

8. Do not rummage or delve through anyone else’s personal belongings.

9. Do not tailgate when driving or cut in front of people in line.

10. Knock before entering a room or office.

Dealing with Personal Space Invasion

There are situations when someone gets disturbingly close, intentionally or unintentionally. Sometimes it is not advisable to confront the person directly to avoid hurting his feelings. It would be better to discern if the issue is worth raising. Here are some suggestions to deal with space intrusion.

- Know and set your limits. Be clear about who you will allow to be near you or be touchy with you.

- For those people who are impossibly clueless, be direct. Being passive-aggressive does not work. Call his attention by tactfully stating that being so close makes you feel awkward. Give him time to right his behavior as old habits die hard. Meanwhile, ensure he is trying to respect your space.

- If you want to be polite, give the hint by leaning back or, if not, just consent to it.

Personal space must not be violated. Your space is your space and you are entitled to it!

There are situations when someone gets disturbingly close, intentionally or unintentionally. Sometimes it is not advisable to confront the person directly to avoid hurting his feelings / Photo by: r.classen via Shutterstock