Did you know that ‘personal space’ is an actual thing that can be measured in distance based on the types of relationships between individuals? Here I was thinking it was merely something that individuals established for themselves to outline how comfortable they are within a certain physical proximity to others. The Oxford Dictionary defines personal space as “The physical space immediately surrounding someone, into which encroachment can feel threatening or uncomfortable:”.
It is my personal feeling that little ‘life-gems’ of information such as these ought to be taught to people since they do not appear to be of a ‘common sense’ nature. Add a lesson about personal space to health class starting from a fairly young age. Teach it in business classes and sociology.
While I personally do not repel at the physical closeness of some people, there are certain situations that do make me irate and border on angry. Just this past weekend I was enjoying a quiet, child-free hour to myself doing groceries at 7:30 am at Walmart. Barely a soul to be seen. Until the one other human on the planet doing groceries that early came into my checkout line. Not only into my checkout line, but went so far as to start piling his groceries on top of mine. With no item separator! I politely put the separator down in between our items and continued unloading my cart. This individual was not to be deterred however. He then proceeded to stand about 2 inches away from me as I was trying to use the debit machine to pay. Now not only is this a terrible invasion of personal space, it’s an invasion of privacy as well. I wanted to shout out ‘Back it up man. You are in my space’. But alas, I said nothing and got out of there as fast as I could.
I know I cannot be the only person who has that ‘close talker’ in the office. You know. The one that stands or sits too close no matter where you are? My office ‘close talker’ takes it one step further. He’s a sitter. Not only does he come right into my cubicle space (without invitation), he sits. And not on a chair. On my desk. Where I work. Where I put down my coffee cup and muffin when I need to pick up the phone. Yep. My personal space is not only being violated, my sanitary work space is as well. The first few times it happened I thought maybe I was getting worked up over nothing. So I tried it on my colleague. A girlfriend, so already we shared a more personal relationship than my ‘close talker’ and I.
I went to her cubicle, sat down on her desk a few inches from her mouse. “What the hell are you doing?!” was her immediate reaction. I felt vindicated knowing that my feelings of personal space violation were justified. Back to my theory that a few business classes on this subject and my ‘close talker’ wouldn’t have dared enter or sit in my space.
Anthropologist Edward T. Hall described four levels of social distance that occur in different situations:
Intimate distance – 6 to 18 inches. This level of physical distance indicates a closer relationship or greater comfort between individuals. Occurs during intimate contact such as hugging, whispering, or touching.
Personal distance – 1.5 to 4 feet. Physical distance at this level occurs between people who are family members or close friends. The closer people can comfortably stand while interacting can be an indicator of the intimacy of the relationship.
Social distance – 4 to 12 feet. This level of physical distance is often used with individuals who are ‘acquaintances’. With someone you know fairly well, such as a co-worker you see several times a week. In cases where you do not know the other person well, such as a postal delivery driver you only see once a month, a distance of 10 to 12 feet may feel more comfortable.
Public distance – 12 to 25 feet. Physical distance at this level is often used in public speaking situations. Talking in front of a class full of students or giving a presentation at work is a good example.
So be mindful everyone! If you are unsure about your physical proximity to someone, play it safe and back up just a little.