Personal Space: How Close is Too Close?

How close is too close for one-on-one communication? Is there a general rule or recommendation on how much "personal space" you should allow for effective discussion?

Chief Strategist

Imelda's Response

The only "rule" I know of is from Edward Hall, an Anthropologist that did a lot of work on body language. He said that our Personal Space is anywhere between 18 inches and 4 feet.

Anything less than 18 inches is Intimate Space. Anything more than 4 feet if Public Space.

I think that this rule is affected by how much the two people like each other. Let's say the other person's personal space is 3 feet and you get as close to 2 feet to him/her. If the person likes you, they may be pleasantly surprised and welcome your nearness. If the person dislikes you or is indiferent to you, they may feel encroached upon and back away.

I also think that the rule is affected by other factors of communication such as gaze and intent listening. People in elevators reduce the level of their personal space encroachment by looking up to avoid someone else's gaze. Conversely if you are sitting far away from someone you want to get closer to, you may gaze at them intently to bring yourself closer to them.

One on one communication allows for undivided attention and profound listening, which brings added closeness to the interaction. You don't really need to add closeness by reducing the personal space, either yours or the other person's. If you do, be very observant of the other person's reaction. If welcome, keep at it, otherwise go for a hasty retreat.

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