Owning Your Personal Space

Couple with Computer

How much personal space do you need?  It may depend on your culture or how socialized you are.  But knowing how to maintain a respectful distance gives folks room to open up to you.   

In most countries, particularly the United States, being a space invader earns you strange looks, or the loss of a conversation partner.  But maintaining physical closeness to someone also depends on the type of relationship you have with him or her.

The Closer You Get

A typical measure of intimacy between people is the amount of distance they normally keep 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.

The Hula Hoop Test

If you're unsure about the amount of distance you should keep between you and others, have some fun finding out.

Remember when we were younger, and played for hours swinging our hips to keep a circle of plastic tubing swirling around us?

Pretend you have a hula hoop surrounding you next time you begin a conversation with an acquaintance.  Its circumference (usually 36 inches) is a good measurement for comfortable personal space.

So if you are standing in the center of the hula hoop, you may be most comfortable when people near you are no closer than that plastic tubing surrounding you.
One thing to note about personal relationships, is that the vast majority of them begin with the social distance of 4 to 12 feet.  As you get to know, like, and trust people, the distance you maintain may become smaller.

It takes time to close the gap.  Literally.

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', be mindful of this when you approach people. 

Being neither too close, nor too far away, shows that you are adept at social interactions.  It also makes people feel respected.

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