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Personal Space and Tips on Respecting Other People’s Boundaries

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In the previous article, we talked about body language, its importance and some tips for effective body language in the classroom. In this article, we will write more about the “personal space” that is part of body language and how you can respect other people’s boundaries.

But what is “personal space”? Personal space is the space in which your body is in relation to other bodies. In other words, it is the physical and/or comfortable distance between one person and another when they are talking to each other, standing next to each other, etc.

This is the general idea of “personal space”. However, it is not just that. There are different types of personal space and differences in how a person perceives personal space, which is influenced by different factors.

Edward T. Hall was an American anthropologist, cross-cultural researcher and expert on non-verbal communication. He is known for developing the concept of personal space and proposing different types of personal space. Thus, Edward Hall defined four different types of personal space or, in other words, four zones of interpersonal distance:

  • Intimate space: in this type, the distance between two people is usually about 15-45 centimetres. Examples of intimate space are hugging, kissing and touching.
  • Personal space: Here the distance is greater than in intimate space and is usually between 45-120 centimetres. Examples of personal space are conversations, presentations, etc. with close friends, family and people with whom you have a more intimate relationship.
  • Social space: 1.2 to 3.5 metres is usually the distance for this type of personal space. This is usually the distance you keep when you meet acquaintances.
  • Public space: In the fourth type of personal space, the distance between two people is between 3.5 and 7.5 metres. An example of this is speaking in public.

Apart from the different types of personal space, there are also some differences influenced by different factors in how people perceive and behave in their personal space. These factors are culture, status and gender.

An example of cultural differences is that people in some countries usually keep a greater distance from strangers. Status differences can relate to the relationship between a boss and his or her employees and vice versa. Gender differences are a controversial issue because it is not entirely clear whether men or women prefer more personal space.

However, there are people who do not respect and invade the personal space of others. Therefore, it is important for all of us to know how to respect the boundaries of others. Of course, there are different types of boundaries, e.g. physical, sexual, mental, emotional, etc.

Since not everyone shares the same boundaries with us, it is important to know some tips to better respect their boundaries.

  1. Become curious about the other person’s needs and boundaries.
  2. Apologise if you violate the other person’s boundaries.
  3. Look for non-verbal signs that someone is uncomfortable.
  4. Be open-minded.
  5. Learn about other people’s experiences.
  6. Also, forgive yourself when you make mistakes.

By learning about personal space, its meaning and its goals, you can better recognise and respect other people’s boundaries, even if you do not understand them.

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