How to Handle Personal Space Issues

Personal space issues can become a sore point at the office. The term personal space is the air between your body and the nearest object or person. Each person has their own area of personal space, and it expands and contracts according to the situation. Your personal space will vary depending on different factors too such as if you know the person, your relationship with the person and how much you trust them.

The space between you and a person you know will be smaller than the space between you and someone that you don’t know too. Plus, observing boundaries in the office is important as well when dealing with personal space. This is why personal space is somewhat different in the office than after hours.

Personal space policies at work

Personal space policies at work could deal with things like hugging or other familiar acts that are frowned upon. Or, not going into another person’s workspace even if you know they don’t mind. 

Now for a person on the job, there are some essential things to observe. For one thing, if a co-worker is busy, either try to be unobtrusive or come back at a later time. Also, just because you work with a person, don’t assume that your relationship with them is personal. They may not like you in their personal space regardless and getting too close if they don’t consider you to be a close friend. Close friends from work often come and go too. It isn’t the same as lifelong friends. In addition, personal conversations about private matters should be done away from the job, not when huddled up during breaks or lunch.

If your personal space is violated

If you’re at work and feel that your personal space is being invaded, there are several things that you can do. One thing to keep in mind is that if the person isn’t aware that your space is being invaded, their feelings may be hurt if you say something. So, before you say something, think whether it’s worth bringing it up.

If you do decide to say something though, then there are ways to go about it:

  • When the person comes too close, gently take a step back and hope they take the hint.
  • You could just tell the person that it makes you uncomfortable when anyone stands too close to you. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the way you are.
  • Tell them why you need more space, perhaps you’re claustrophobic, or you’re left-handed and need more space to write.

How to help prevent your personal space from being invaded

There are ways to prevent your personal space from being intruded into in the office. You can use your desk to separate yourself from people or use objects around the office such as the file cabinet. You can scoot your desk chair backward gently away from the person. You can also slightly swing your legs back and forth to keep your area clear when on break. No one likes to be kicked in the leg.

Additionally, you can avoid eye contact when you’re talking face to face with a person who makes you uncomfortable. They may take the hint and leave when you show disinterest. Plus, think about your actions and make sure that you’re not doing anything unintentionally that might be mistaken for an invitation.

If you feel a co-worker’s behavior is inappropriate though, perhaps getting close and leaning in over you or touching your shoulder, even after you’ve mentioned that it makes you uncomfortable; and the behavior hasn’t stopped, then you need to talk to your manager about it. Another thought is sometimes a person’s culture is more intimate than yours might be. They may find it a pat on the back or a tap on the shoulder a means to communicate and connect. If this doesn’t bother you, then you could choose to accept this type of invasion of personal space. Too, sometimes a person is hard of hearing and may have to lean into your personal space to hear what you’re saying.

Personal space is different for each person; you need to find what is comfortably acceptable for yours.