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Help! You're Too Close

Personal space: what is it, how to get it, and how to give it

All humans have a defined area of personal space around them. Depending on our culture, experiences and upbringing this will be different for each of us. This is not a problem as long as we recognise this and act accordingly. You will definitely be unpopular if someone considers you are standing too close to them. You need to gauge their reaction as to where you position yourself. If they back up, then you are too close. Don’t move into the space they free up or you will begin to move around the room like a couple of dancers. Alternatively if someone is constantly moving closer to you or putting their hand on your arm they may wish you to come closer – lovely if you are on a date with someone you like. Not so great if they are someone who is intent on invading your space!

Try to drop kind hints if the person gets too close. “I get a little claustrophobic at these events” or “There isn’t much space here is there?” This can alert the other to your need for personal space. If you like the person and they continue to invade your space you may have to tell them straight that you need more space. This shouldn’t arise too often (although cultures do differ) if we all pay attention to the cues others are giving. Most of us in similar societies and cultures, have very similarly defined personal space dimensions and it becomes obvious if someone doesn’t share this view. Watch for others' discomfort, for example: backing up or feeling their neck, hugging a drink or bag protectively in front of them; these are all clues you are too close. If you are in an unfamiliar setting or a different country, watch others and learn what are considered the "norms" for where you are. Be sensitive to others and as a last resort let the other person know, in the kindest way you can, if they are getting too close.

It goes without saying that using your size or a position of power to invade another's space is definitely off limits. This is just another form of bullying or intimidation. If this happens to you, make very clear that you find this unacceptable. It may be necessary in some circumstances to elicit help - from human resources at work or from those in authority at school or simply from a robust friend who can set the perpetrator straight. We all value our own personal space, so make sure you are not guilty, by accident or on purpose, of violating another's.

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