Ever been on a queue where you could almost feel the breath of the person standing behind you on your neck? Or engaged in a conversation with someone who appeared to be too physically close for comfort. It was not exactly a very pleasant experience was it? The concept of personal space is one which quite a number of people are ignorant of. On countless occasions I have had the unpleasant experience of having to deal with the invasion of my personal space either in form of an overeager bank customer whose quest to get to the head of the line in order to be attended to on time beclouds their sense of judgement or an acquaintance who comes a tad too close in the middle of a conversation.
I was particularly miffed recently while waiting to be served at a food court, this colleague who stood beside me kept bumping into my side quite often. Now, It wasn’t a crowded place. He had ample room to keep a reasonable distance by my side without necessarily prodding me thereby making me feel uneasy but chose to do otherwise. I had to keep shuffling to the side in order to avoid bodily contact, but to my annoyance the guy who appeared to be oblivious of the discomfort he was causing kept poking me at my side albeit unknowingly. It is a long standing rule of social etiquette to stay out of other people’s personal space as it represents a region surrounding them which they regard as psychologically theirs and as such find physical proximity disturbing and uncomfortable when this space is compromised.
While I was serving, I got an invitation from one of the banks to take part in their aptitude test. It was a very crowded affair with both the invited and uninvited job seekers hoping to participate in the poorly organised test. While waiting to be admitted into the hall we were to use, things got really rowdy with people pushing and shoving in different directions. There was a particular guy who appeared to be everywhere and one would have thought he was only desperate to take the test until a lady raised an alarm about his conduct. To cut to the chase, our friend wasn’t even there as a candidate or job seeker, his sole aim was frotteurism (rubbing one’s pelvic area against a non consenting person for sexual pleasure). Sad, but true! Unfortunately, he took advantage of the circumstance to invade other people’s privacy and was very lucky to have escaped that day without being mobbed.
Personal space is the border that guards our physical and psychological privacy and one of the fastest ways to get people to flip is to invade this space, even though it may differ from person to person or even from one culture to the other. The idea is to properly identify how close a person is to you before literally talking in their face or backslapping them. Generally, invasive behaviours like peeping, listening in on someone else’s telephone conversation, eavesdropping, trespassing on private property or even cyber intrusions such as spam are unacceptable regardless of who is involved.
It is the 21st century, and personal space is more easily violated because many of us live in over populated and bustling urban cities where virtually every means of transportation is crowded and invariably throws people in close proximity with one another thereby making it virtually impossible to completely stay out of other people’s spaces. However, as much as we can, in situations where it is conducive to do so, it is important to respect the boundary of others by way of keeping a reasonable distance when talking to them, and avoiding touching or placing an arm around them if we are not intimate with them. If someone backs away in a bid to increase the distance between you when in a conversation, please refrain from closing the gap as it is a clear indication that they were uncomfortable at first. Often times, people will not be outrightly vocal about the invasion of their personal space in order not to be perceived as nitpicking or making a mountain out of a mole hill, but any feeling of irritation, uneasiness or anger can be read from their body language which should in turn cause the erring party to do the right thing.