How Much Space is Too Much?

Have you ever thought about how particular you are with your space when communicating with people? Or how big your imaginary bubble is, and how much you hate it when people cross it? Well, you are not the only one.

Interestingly, there are actual rules of space for communication. Rules that you might not be aware of, yet we implement them in our day-to-day interactions. These rules are called proxemics.

Proxemics is the study of the nature, degree, and effect of the spatial separation individuals naturally maintain and how this separation relates to environmental and cultural factors. The space you keep between yourself and others during social interactions differs depending on the interaction that is taking place.

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The rules of space for communication are part of non-verbal communication, a category of proxemics. These rules differ from country to country.

In North America, the amount of space you need to maintain varies. In public settings, you need beyond 12 feet to interact with strangers. In social contexts, 4 to 12 feet is the approximate distance for formal conversations and business transactions. 18 inches to 4 feet is considered personal space, which is reserved for friends and informal conversations. Lastly, 0 to 10 inches is considered your intimate space, allocated to close friends and family interactions.

In a country with such a diverse makeup as the United States, the different rules of space for communication often go unnoticed. While you might think that it is rude for someone to stand so close to you in line at a supermarket; for someone from India, a country that has a vast population and where thousands of people are walking in any direction at any given time, standing close and invading personal space is normal.

Cross-cultural concepts of space are good to know and to keep in mind. Polite space for conversations and negotiations can differ significantly and often cause conflict and confusion. The difficulty that arises with space preference is not due to its existence but to the judgment that we tend to attach to it.

If someone stands too close, you might view him or her as pushy and rude for stepping into your personal space. If you are accustomed to close space when speaking to someone and that person attempts to increase the space between you, you might interpret this as coldness and lack of interest.

Our communication habits, verbal and non-verbal, differ cross-culturally. Next time you feel that your bubble is being invaded and react by pushing away, think twice about the social interaction that you are in and if your reaction can be interpreted negatively.

Non-verbal communication is as important as verbal, especially in social conversations and negotiations. As you enter cross-cultural interactions, consider how much space you are giving the other person and how much space this person is giving you. This will give you an idea of how to interpret the space accordingly and will help you proceed in a polite manner.