• Everybody has different personal space limits
  • Culture and geography play huge roles in determining limits
  • Use tactics to create the space you need to feel comfortable
From the corner of your eye, you can see him approaching your desk. You’re doing your best to look like you’re overwhelmed as fuck and can’t be bothered. But, it doesn’t stop him from air-knocking at your cubicle door. You reluctantly acknowledge his presence and ask what’s up.

It’s at this very moment that you start to cringe.

As he starts explaining the background of his request, he walks in closer and gets right in your face like he’s a criminal interrogator and you're the prime suspect. He’s close enough that you can smell his stanky-ass shitty office coffee breath.

Instinctively, you lean away but that only makes him lean in further. It’s at this point where you’re thinking, “What the fuck, dude?! Back up!”

Over the next few minutes, you’re doing your best not to punch him in the face while trying to explain things.

This guy is the worst offender of personal space in the office, but certainly not the only one. There are others at the office that always seems to get a little too close for your comfort, especially the resident office asshole.

This shit has gotta stop.

Why Some People Don’t Observe Personal Space Boundaries

Have you ever wondered why some people don’t have a clue about personal space? It’s as if their parents never taught them anything about conversational etiquette as a child.

The personal space invaders vary too. It’s not a one size fits all. Some are light offenders and get close enough that you can tell that their wearing perfume or cologne. Others are more aggressive and get uncomfortably close to the point where it makes you wanna push them back.

Whatever the level is, these folks don’t seem to get it. They’re constantly closer to you than you’d like. Whether it’s sitting down for a one-on-one conversation, waiting in line for the free office donuts or walking down the hallway.

You would think that there’s some lack of mental awareness or ability for these people to recognize others’ level of comfort. But, it’s not that. What it boils down to is that people’s brains are all tuned differently. And it’s this tuning that determines their levels of personal space.

This short 2-minute clip from Seeker explains the science behind it.

VIDEO: Back Off!
LENGTH: 2:38
Generally speaking, cultural upbringing and geography determine much of the brain’s tuning for personal space. It gets solidified by early teens.

If your cultural norms are all about close contact with hugs and kisses and you grew up in a densely populated city, then you’re personal space limits are going to be vastly different than someone who was raised in an impersonal culture and/or a sparsely populated rural area.

How To Enforce Your Personal Space At Work

Here’s the bottom line: you can’t re-program or re-tune somebody’s level of acceptable and normal boundaries for personal space. As we stated above, by the time someone reaches maturity during their teenage years, it’s pretty much set. You can’t change this anymore than you could change someone’s core beliefs. It ain’t happening.

So, the idea here is that you need countermeasure tactics to enforce or clearly show your personal space boundaries. Some of these tactics are direct while others are more subtle and indirect. You’ve gotta make smart decisions and use the tactic that will work best for your situation and target person.

Tell Them Directly

This is the most obvious thing you can do. The next time the closer-talker comes by to have a chat with you about pre-meeting bullshit, tell them that they get too close to you. They need to back off a bit.

Just a simple comment like, “Hey, you’re getting into my personal space here. Do you mind just backing up a bit? Thanks.” Boom. Done.

Put Up A Stop Hand Signal Greeting

Sometimes a non-verbal hand signal can work just as well too. As your primary offender is approaching you to pull you into the gossip trap, put your open hand out for a visual stop sign. Kinda like the “talk to the hand” thing that was all the rage years ago. Remember that shit?

This automatically shows where your personal space limits are to most people. The boundaries for personal space are usually an arm’s length radius.

Use Physical Barriers

If you can, put a physical barrier between you and your too close for comfort co-worker. This can be a random table, the long hallway file cabinet, the recycling bin, the cubicle plant, etc. Pretty much anything that doesn’t block eye-to-eye contact but is large enough to act as a barrier will work just fine.

You just have to be quick on your feet and position yourself appropriately before they get too close to you. You gotta get it lined up before the conversation starts.

Reconfigure Your Workspace

If you have the rare ability to reconfigure your workspace, then this is a huge advantage that most of us don’t have. It’s the whole cubicles vs open office thing. If possible, rearrange your setup in a way that puts any visitors to your workspace at a distance.

Ideally, you could put your desk between you and the “entrance” to your workspace. Or maybe, put the guest chair at the end of your desk so that it creates an L-type seating arrangement.

Have Virtual Meetings

If you know that you’ve gotta have meetings with an uncomfortably close talker, schedule those meetings as virtual meetings instead. This works wonders if you work at a large company with multiple floors and/or buildings.

Just send the meeting invite with the online meeting room deets and not a conference room. They’ll get the signal. And be sure to prep to avoid online meeting tech issues so that they can’t use the excuse of tech problems to meet in person.

Pre-Assigned Seating In The Meeting Room

If an in-person meeting is unavoidable, then be sure to get to the meeting room five minutes beforehand. Set up your stuff in one seat and place any hardcopy docs on the other side of the table. This in effect will pre-assign their seating spot. It’s kinda like how you’d prep for an executive presentation.

If you’ll be presenting a deck with a monitor or projector screen, then place their assigned seat front and center and you off to the side. This will give you the ability to stand up and point to the slide while also being able to make eye contact with them.

Use The Coffee Cup Or Water Bottle Tactic

A lot of times we have impromptu meetings and discussions in the hallways, elevator, lobby, etc. And inevitably, there’s gonna be times when your space invader will intercept you when you’re out and about in the office. It’s like they just pop out of nowhere while you’re making cofftea in the break room.

A great way to establish an invisible boundary is to always carry a water bottle or cup of coffee with you. When they unexpectedly show up and try to get in your face, just swing your arm up a little wider than you normally would and take a sip. This creates the needed space.

Start Sneezing Or Coughing 

This tactic isn’t as evergreen as the others since you can’t be sick all the time. However, you could pull this out of your bag of tricks every now and then.

A few coughs and sniffles during your stupid meeting or conversation with them should be enough to keep them at arm’s length. Nobody wants to get sick. This works especially well in the winter when flu season is in full swing.

Do Walk & Talk Discussions

Another option is to have a walking meeting. Not only are you able to create some separation while walking, but the both of you can also get some extra steps in your day. It’s a great low-sweat easy workout to burn some extra calories.

This is especially true for conference calls where you’re not the main stakeholder but just a listener. You can do walking conference calls instead.

Protect Your Personal Space & Be Happy

There’s nothing more irritating than having to deal with annoying AF co-workers that don’t observe your personal space. It’s hard to stay focused and remain calm when somebody’s almost on top of you. You can’t think of anything else except for wanting to take a swing at them.

All of this doesn’t do anything to help you manage work stress. It just makes things worse. And who wants that?

You have to realize that everyone’s got different limits of personal space. And even though other people should respect the boundaries of others, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, you gotta use certain tactics to set solid boundaries at work.

You know who the biggest space invaders are at your office. So, plan ahead and start using a mix of these tactics and you’ll be setting the tone and establishing your personal space limits fast.

Feel Better,

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