Invading Personal Space, Boundary, Privacy– Workplace, Social, Home– Get Out of My Face: How Close is too Close?

Personal space is an imaginary area-space-boundary surrounding a person physical body (e.g., visualize transparent bubble surrounding your body)… It’s an invisible shield that most all individual form around themselves as an area of self privacy and protection… psychologically, possibly subconsciously, they regard this space as ‘their turf’– not to be violated… 

If an intruder enters their space without permission it makes them feel very uncomfortable or they may even react in some negative way… Have you heard of someone refer to their need for– personal space? Have you ever felt uncomfortable when someone stands– just little too close to you? The term ‘proxemics’ refers to– the distance between people– as they interact with each other. Just as body movement, facial expression can communicate a great deal of nonverbal information, so can this physical space between individuals…

Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, anxiety… when their personal space is being encroached. Permitting a person to enter one’s personal space or entering somebody else’s personal space is an indicator of the level of relationship between these persons. Personal space is the area immediately surrounding an individual, sometimes described as an imaginary ‘bubble’. Most people are very aware of others in ‘their space’, and many require the area to remain relatively clear in order to feel at ease.

The idea of personal space is rooted in psychology and there are many theories about how personal space develops and how people react to violations, and there’s even a name for the study of personal space: In the 1960s, Edward T. Hall, anthropologist, pioneered the field that came to be known as proxemics— the study of humans’ behavioral use of space.

According to Hall; personal space can be viewed as an extension of the human body and he defined– four distinct spaces or zones: Intimate zone, for whispering and embracing (within 18 inches of your body); Personal zone, for conversing with close friends (18 inches to 4 feet); Social zone, for conversing with acquaintances (4 feet to 10 feet); Public zone, for interacting with strangers (10 feet to 25 feet). You can visualize these zones as expanding concentric sectors with your body as the bull’s-eye.

Also Hall noted, that different cultures maintain different standards of personal space. The ‘Lewis Model of Cultural Types’ indicates the variations in personal interactive qualities consist of three poles, namely: ‘linear-active’ cultures, which are characterized as cool and decisive (e.g., Germany, Norway… ), ‘reactive’ cultures, characterized as accommodating and non-confrontational (e.g., China, Japan… ), and ‘multi-active’ cultures, characterized as warm and impulsive (e.g., Brazil, Mexico…). Realizing-recognizing that cultural differences improve cross-cultural understanding…

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According to Natasha Polak; in certain cultures, standing too close or far away from someone you are talking to is considered rude, and the same goes for hand gestures or physical contact, or even facial expressions. Depending on where you live, having too much or not enough personal space can be a problem!

According to Robert Sommer; the violation of personal space increases tension levels enormously… When people’s space is trespassed upon it provokes cathartic responses… Police investigators are taught to invade suspect’s personal space during questioning to gain a psychological advantage… This is the way animal trainers’ tame lions by moving forward, moving back, constantly pushing the limits…

Personal space may vary slightly depending on familiarity, gender… but we generally subscribe to a certain set of norms that are considered acceptable to most people in a given culture… However, in other cultures, personal-space thresholds may be completely different, and awareness of those differences can help international business people and politicians avoid making their clients or associates feel uncomfortable… So a conscious effort to be flexible and considerate of others’ cultural expectations will greatly improve the odds that you will put others at ease in the international business world…

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In the article What is Personal Space? by Debby Mayne writes: Think of your personal space as the air between your body and an invisible shield, or bubble, you have formed around yourself for any relationship… The distance between you and your shield most likely varies from one person to another, depending on a variety of factors, including how well you know the person, your relationship to that person, and how much you trust him or her… Personal space at work…

Observing boundaries in the office is important to maintaining professionalism… That is why you should observe professional distance while at the office and reserve more intimate gestures for after hours… Be aware of company policies regarding relationships with coworkers. Don’t assume your relationship with a coworker or supervisor is personal. Avoid hugging or other familiar gestures.

Only step into someone’s workspace if you know you are welcome. Be respectful if you sense the person is busy. Save personal conversations for the lunch break or after hours… When someone gets uncomfortably close to you there are ways to deal with space intrusion: Lean away from the person or take a step back, hoping he or she will take the hint. Come right out and say you are uncomfortable being so close. Explain why you need more space…

In the article Respecting Co-worker’s Personal Space by Lisa McQuerrey writes:  Today’s open office environments often mean employees work in close proximity to each another. For some people, this is conducive to team work, while to others, it feels claustrophobic. To maintain good relationships with your colleagues, respect boundaries, personal space and privacy…

Respecting one’s physical space means not encroaching into others’ work territory, particularly in cubicles or workstations that connect in some way. Keep your own space clean, clear and organized and situate yourself so you are physically in your own environment. Position your computer and telephone away from your colleague, not to ignore them, but rather, to help both of you avoid the distraction that another person can create. This allows you to respect personal space and it keeps you focused on your work…

Respect a person’s personal space by not standing too close when you talk, which can make some people feel as if you’re physically on top of them… In meetings and seminars, maintain physical space at tables and in chair rows so the people around you have room to stretch and move without fear of bumping elbows and knees… Be mindful about how aromatic your food and beverages are and be careful about the amount of perfume or cologne you wear…

Likewise, pay attention to your volume when you speak, both in person and on the phone, to ensure you aren’t interrupting colleagues’ work or concentration… If you walk into a room and see two colleagues in private conversation, respectfully keep your distance or come back later. If you hear a co-worker on the phone, don’t eavesdrop on her conversation, and if you do inadvertently overhear details of the discussion, keep them confidential…

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In the article Guidelines for Respecting Personal Space by Laurie Wilhelm writes: At work, at home and in our social circles, we carry with us a sense of our own personal space that we often unconsciously protect… Probably the most readily thought-of personal space is when someone gets ‘in your space’; it’s uncomfortable and you may take a step or two back to regain the physical distance you need to be comfortable again. We have different perceptions of how much space we need and someone made require more space between others than you do and body language if you’re being a space invader…

Personal space also includes specific physical areas that extend beyond our invisible space. These tend to be spaces that we qualify as ‘mine’ even if we don’t own them, for example: my work cubicle, my desk, my parking space… Be cognizant that these are people’s spaces and treat them appropriately. At work, don’t go through others desk drawers looking for a pen, don’t take their pad of sticky notes because you see they have two on their desk, and when parking your vehicle, park in the center of ‘your’ spot so that your neighbor can easily maneuver in ‘their’ spot. While none of these are really– ‘theirs’, ‘yours’… there is personal entitlement to whomever they’ve been assigned and that assumed entitlement should be respected…

Another invisible personal space, or perhaps this is an invasion of personal space, is the sound that enters into it. Invading another’s personal space with your personal noise is a sure way to cause friction. Talking loudly on the cell phone, ear-splitting, cackling laughter in the otherwise quiet restaurant, blaring stereo are all types of aural assaults on personal space… While we tend to focus on getting along with others through good social skills that revolve around what we say and how we act, we may also consider paying more attention to the personal space of those around us and being considerate of how our actions may be intrusive…

Personal space is an area with invisible boundaries that surrounds us– it’s a protective ‘buffer zone’ that allows one to maintain a sense of privacy… Personal space is highly variable and can be due to cultural differences and personal experiences… Difficulties can be created by failures of intercultural communication due to different expectations of personal space…

According to Douglas Main; everybody has ‘personal space’ or protective invisible ‘bubble’ around their body to keep themselves from unwanted intrusions… According to Hillel; personal space is your space alone; it’s your body, your thoughts, your emotions… These are yours and nobody has the right to dictate how you maintain them, keep or use them… However, there is also shared-space that are areas were we gather, work, socialize, shop… While our personal space is for our own benefit and needs, shared space is for the benefit of everyone there…

When it comes to shared space you have the absolute right to negotiate and compromise in order to get what you need. By the same token, however, you also have a responsibility to uphold those agreed upon standards. What many people do not realize is that shared space is a win/win situation. That is to say ‘everybody’ gets something out of it and in a functioning situation the division of benefits is equal…

Whereas, personal space, boundaries… are imaginary lines that help you protect yourself– physically, emotionally… Boundary setting is not about controlling; it’s really about deciding what you will and won’t tolerate… it’s about drawing a line around your personal space, boundary, bubble… that identifies your personal area of privacy…