The Application of Personal Space in Your Social Interactions
Part 3

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We have been talking about the importance of personal space, what happens when we invade it and the different factors that affect it. Now it's time to get practical: how to keep your distance, know what to do when we invade other's space by mistake and even how to use space invasion to get some personal benefits.

Knowledge is Power

First, let's see what are our options and what considerations should we make when our personal space is invaded.

While you simply can say: "hey, you're standing too close" to someone; it will still be quite awkward and you may come out a little as a snob in the eyes of others surrounding you. It's a nonverbal game that is better resolved in nonverbal means.

Another option is to push them back – that's even a worse course of action since now you're taking a hostile action against them. This scenario happens a lot between 2 angry cocky males - one is getting too close with his chest puffed up, head's up and a flaring nose and a really bad attitude, the other guy pushes him back away to retain his space – a cue to start a fight.

So since most of our meetings are made in a peaceful context, we need to treat space invasion in a more subtle and elegant ways.

fight distance

Let's find a more elegant way...

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First you need to stay calm and try to understand what is the meaning behind such a move. If the reason is a cultural one or a status related, consider if that's worth resisting it, since it's an honest "mistake". I mean, one of you won't be satisfied with the distance you will stand at – either it's too far for him\her, or it's too close for you (obviously, this can be the other way around).

I know that this may sound hopeless but this knowledge actually gives you the edge – you get to make a conscious decision about it – take action to prevent it or to accept it; because you understand what happens behind the scenes, the other party probably doesn't.

Another option to consider is when the invasion is done on purpose:  as an attempt to intimidate you or, on the opposite, to try getting closer to you to warm up the relations between you (paradoxically it's often gets the opposite result).

After this 'evaluation' phase is over it's time to decide what action to take (if any):

So What Do We Do?

OK OK, a little patience… I'm getting to it…

Instinctively, the first move you'll probably make is to step back. You need to retain your space so you naturally move backwards. If your company observant enough, they will notice it and hopefully respect that.  If they're not, this little play can occur several times during a conversation and you may find yourself traveling in the whole room before the conversation is over. Like I said before, if the specific relationship is important enough for you, and you need something from the other party, it may be worth to "suffer" their comfortable personal distance to leave a better impression on them.

defensive postures

Barriers for defense

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If, on the other hand, you decide to stay on guard and to keep away the invader you can create a barrier: either to find an actual barrier like a table, or to fold your arms. It will make you feel more secure and will deter the other party from getting closer. As a bonus you can stare with unblinking gaze and motionless head, it sends a very standoffish and distant attitude

If all that fails, you still have one option left - get even closer. Take the initiative and invade their space too. It may feel very awkward, now that you stand even closer, but it shows that you’re not intimidated and in control.

What if you're the intruder? If you made a step and noticed a change in the 'tone' of conversation – to a more hostile or defensive one, take a casual step back and continue the conversation from that distance. I know that it may feel weird to stand too far by your standards, but it's much better to keep more distance that intruding someone else's space.

Can I Use Space Invasion to my Benefit?

Yes, sure you can, but it can backfire on you.

Invading another's personal space can be an effective tactic to confuse them and then manipulate them to do your will. But it's a very risky tactic, you can't be 100 % sure how they will react, some people may be seemed like easy targets but can burst when put under this kind of pressure. So unless you truly believe it's better to be feared than loved - use with caution, or even better, avoid it.

Is it helpful in flirting or to warm up relationships? Again, it's a risky move but can be done. The question is this: is the person you're trying to get is into you at all? If you're on a date and everything goes well – you can try to get closer, if it met without resistance (i.e. they won't recoil and stand back with bewildered expression on their face) it's a great sign. Take into consideration that it's a process; it doesn't mean that if they recoil back they don't like you, it can simply mean that you're not there yet.


You'll never know for sure how they will react

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Let's Finish This

We began with a talk about our "bubble" of personal space that we consider our private 'breathing' space. We learned that the size of that bubble is affected by many factors –cultural, habitual, status related and some are more personal.

The invasion of that bubble is a big "no no" in our social interaction and should be generally avoided unless you try some power plays. Space invasion cause us to be very aware of ourselves and our actions and thus a very confusing and annoying experience. Seriously, try it - stand closer than usual and observe how you and the other person feel.

And lastly, we saw how we can use this knowledge to our benefit and protection. I hope this will prove helpful next time in your social interactions.

You can review the 2 previous articles on personal space and it's violation here:

Personal Space Part 1 - Importance

Personal Space Part 2 - Factors

Or return to Proxemics Section for more great info on how we consider our space and territory.

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