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Personal Space: How Much Does It Matter?

- Written by Janika LeMaitre -


Your personal space matters. Just think for a moment... When has someone stepped into your "space" and didn't realize they were standing too close to you? Yes, the ramifications of the pandemic have forcibly trained our society to relearn what a good standing apart distance is from someone else in order to contain a health pandemic. But when the vaccinations are in full effect, it will take time for you to readjust your idea of normal personal space.

Personal space is the term used to describe someone’s comfort or safe zone. It’s a space around your immediate body which you feel is yours.

Many people have a different opinion of what they regard as being too close or too far and these ideas can vary from culture to culture.

Robert Sommer is an environmental psychologist who dedicated his life to human behavioral studies. His research "Studies in Personal Space" looks at creating a distinction between what “personal space” is and that of a “territory”. Sommer defines that a territory is a generally marked boundary to declare ownership of one’s space and is obvious to others. For example: If you live in a home with a backyard, you may have a fence that distinguishes your property to that of your neighbors. Sommer describes your home as being the center of your territory. Should this be the case, how would you feel if someone jumps the fence without an invitation?

Sommer also makes a reference to personal space being an invisible territory that you carry around with you at all times. Noone can see it, but if someone enters this invisible space, it is considered an intrusion.

You don’t feel personal space; you can’t see it: You have to imagine it.

I can often tell when I’m conversing with someone if they have a different idea of personal space to me. The best way to combat this is to be reflective of their stance. For example, there was a lady I knew who would always ask about the well being of my family. She would often draw herself closer and then amidst our conversation she’d suddenly take a step backwards. This felt quite awkward. To help with the awkwardness, I would also take a step back about the same distance.

The standard distance to respect personal space in most western countries is to stand four feet apart. (Unless otherwise stated by the government for health reasons.) Anything less is considered more intimate and can quickly become uncomfortable.

Be considerate: Respect someone else's personal space.


About the author, Janika LeMaitre

Jan is a certified etiquette and protocol consultant, specializing in personal brand strategy. Her mission is to provide life-changing soft skills for entrepreneurs, executives, and industry trail-blazers to self-manage and evolve their reputation. Jan is certified with the Protocol School of Washington® and The British School of Excellence™. She is the board president of Women's Business Group Connects, and as a second-generation Rotarian, proudly serves as a board director at the Rotary Club of Weston & Wayland.

Download your complimentary copy of Jan's "Handling Gender Neutral Pronouns" guide here.



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