The Etiquette of Personal Space

Personal space is simply the space around someone wherever they are; say a distance of one metre radius could be seen as their personal space. On a queue, in a bus, at a party, everywhere, anywhere, public or private, everyone has their own personal space no matter who they are.

Personal space represents comfort zones for people and has nothing to do with status or position in society, it is a right you have by virtue of your presence in any specific place. Personal space is such an important part of modern living and relating to people. Although it is easily assumed that everyone understands and accepts the concept of respecting other peoples’ personal space. However, some people get into trouble at work because they have not learnt not to invade the privacy of their colleagues or boss.

Here are some examples of tips and things to avoid in order not to invade other people’s personal space:

Touching people – Touching people with whom you do not have close ties can be going out of your boundaries. Some people get carried away when they laugh and slap their hands on anyone around. This is clearly a no-no. Touch, even if casual, is personal as it is an expression of affection which should be mutual between two people. Given that we are generally quite tactile, it is better to avoid touching people until a closer relationship is established. In other words do not touch or hold people’s hands or shoulder when you are trying to make a point in any discussion.

Standing too close to people – When talking to people, do not get too close, if a person backs away a little, when talking to them, you are probably encroaching on their comfort zone. The same goes for handshaking, leave a reasonable distance and do not hold on to peoples’ hands unnecessarily.

Brushing your body against other people – This may happen in narrow spaces when one person is trying to get pass another, when queuing or even in buses. It is better to wait for someone to walk through a narrow space rather than squeezing through and brushing someone’s body whether they are of the same gender or not. You could face a disciplinary action at work, as this is tantamount to sexual harassment. Inside a bus, apply the same discretion in order not to invade other people’s space.

Sitting too close – to someone who is already seated may be seen in some cultures as an invasion of their personal space. To avoid this, it is advisable to leave some space between a person already seated except when all the other seats are taken. For example, if someone is in Seat A, it is expected you at least leave a distance of one seat and take Seat C or take a seat on the next row. However, where most of the seats have filled up, you are free to sit next to anyone where there is a free seat.

The same goes for a house where there are two sofas, if your host is sitting at the edge of Sofa 1, it is expected that you sit on sofa 2 but close enough to engage in a conversation.

Talking over people – If you happen to be holding a conversation with Miss Ade who is three seats away, you may well be speaking over someone’s head (if you are standing) or even leaning over another person to get near. Either way, the correct thing to do is to move nearer to avoid talking over someone’s head or leaning over their legs.

Rifling through someone’s desk – Whether at work or home, this is a serious case of invading personal privacy. Anything that is not yours requires permission before you can read or use even if it is work related projects. Project papers that have not been handed over to the team should not be accessed without due permission.

Going through someone’s email, letters or mobile phone – It is quite common for someone to pick up another person’s mobile phone and scroll through their call list or even contact details. This is an infringement of privacy. The same goes for reading hand written notes, emails, text messages, letters and bills, going through handbags drawers or wardrobe.

No matter how close a friend is to you, the rule of personal space should never be taken for granted. If you have an informal or business relationship with someone, it is even more important that you recognise their space and keep a safe distance whilst being warm and cordial.

Others – being loud on your phone in a public space, shouting, dragging your feet or chair in an environment where other people are concentrating on something, eating food with a very strong smell, playing your music loud are other ways you may be infringing on peoples’ privacy and should be avoided.

Finally, respecting someone’s personal space simply means that you allow them to be the master of their own little space; this means you create an artificial boundary in your mind and seek to never break through that boundary unless you have their permission or have been clearly invited.

Trying to get close by invading their personal space or throwing yourself at someone is often a futile practice as you are more likely to irritate the person you are trying to befriend.

Entering someone’s space usually means that you are defining a new relationship with them, which is mutually agreed.

The lesson is to allow everyone to be the master of their own space, whether they are young or old, slave or free.

We all benefit when we do things right!