Good manners also means keeping your distance
People become uncomfortable if an unfamiliar person comes too close to them. But what is the right distance?
It happens time and again. Perhaps when traveling to the train station together. Perhaps in a networking break at a conference, or on the way to the cafeteria. The person talking to you stands unpleasantly close. They literally crowd you and clearly have no grasp of what the right distance should be.
Most of our fellow humans intuitively maintain the necessary physical distance. As a rule, standing closer than arm’s length is taboo. This minimum distance is overridden only where people have a close and trusting relationship, or when external circumstances dictate, for instance, in crowded buses and trains and when standing in line. Otherwise, the airspace inside a radius of 50 centimeters around another person is a no-go area. Informal conversations during breaks call for a distance of 0.8 to 1.1 meters. At this distance it is quite possible to put your heads together in order to exchange confidential information.
What can you do to fend of people are too intrusive?
Your body will often react intuitively to an unwelcome proximity. Typical signals are taking a step to the side, bending slightly backwards or folding one’s arms. But if the other person’s sensors are not working, they will follow through. The root problem is not usually ill will, but simply a lack of sensitivity. It sometimes helps to take a step toward the intrusive person in order to reclaim the disputed space for yourself. It’s also useful to begin a conversation by positioning yourself at right angles to the other person so that you can regulate the distance yourself at any time.
If all else fails, the predicament can often be resolved without offending the other party, for instance, by offering to fetch coffee or dessert, by ostensibly looking for business cards or by saying that you need to fetch something from the office or meeting room. In a few select cases, experts recommend a clear word. For example, on a bus, if your seat neighbor takes up too much space, or if a genuinely esteemed colleague has a malfunctioning distance sensor. A friendly word in a friendly tone can considerably relieve the situation—and with lasting effect.