Owning Your Personal Space

Couple with Computer

How much personal space do you need?  It may depend on your culture or how you were brought up.  But knowing how to maintain a respectful distance is one of the most important social rules during the pandemic and recovery period.   

Pre-pandemic era, being a space invader earned you strange looks, or the loss of a conversation partner.  Still current, maintaining physical closeness to someone also depends on the type of relationship you have with him or her and what your operating rules are for being out and about.  Whether you and others wear masks also influences how close you are to one another.

A Measure of Intimacy

A typical measure of intimacy between people was the amount of distance they normally kept from each other, as identified by anthropologist Edward T. Hall.

  • Romantic partners and people in intimate relationships are often close enough to touch.
  • Close friends and family members may be 1 to 4 feet away, giving them the option to touch and enjoy quiet conversation.
  • The social distance of 4 to 12 feet is typical for people you've just met, casual friends, and coworkers.  Again, the distance varies depending on your level of comfort with the other person.

Remember when we were younger and played for hours swinging our hips to keep a circle of plastic tubing swirling around us?  It turns out that the hula hoop could also be used to determine how close you should stand to one another in a one-to-one conversation.

The Exercise:
Pretend you had a hula hoop surrounding you next time you begin a conversation with an acquaintance.  Its circumference (usually 36 inches) was a good measurement for comfortable personal space.

So if you were standing in the center of the hula hoop, you may have been most comfortable when people near you were no closer than that plastic tubing surrounding you.
The vast majority of personal relationships began with the social distance of 4 to 12 feet.  As you got to know, like, and trust people, the distance you maintained may have become smaller.

It took time, literally, to close the gap.  But now, these measures would be considered off limits for most relationships other than very intimate.

Your Personal Space

You are the sole owner of your personal space.  If someone invades it, you have the right to move away, or ask them to move away.

On the flip side, if you have the tendency to invade the space of others, you might be surprised when someone moves quickly away from you, and you can easily learn to discover your old bad habits.

Being neither too close, nor too far away, shows that you are mindful of how easily a person can offend another simply by standing too close.

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