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Made in India Magazine | January 21, 2021

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Gaurav Malhotra

Do you go for a regular old handshake or a hug? Should you extend a physical gesture of caring or should you keep your distance and give verbal support? The concept of physical space is a very real one, and we often step on people’s toes without realizing it. In this piece, we tell you four things to keep in mind.

All of us have a ‘space’ around our physical bodies that we categorise as ‘personal’. This means that not everyone is welcome there. Only those people whom we have given permission can come into this space and stay there for a length of time. While quick handshakes and hugs in the form of greeting are unavoidable and we don’t think much of them, it is when personal space gets invaded for an uncomfortably long time that it begins to get us all uneasy.
Here are a few things to keep in mind with regards to personal space, both yours and others’.
1. Personal space is relative. What is personal for you may not be personal for someone else. These differences are more pronounced between cultures and races. Some cultures are ‘touch happy’ while others are not. When in doubt as to whether your advance can be seen as ‘personal’, err on the side of caution and go for the less physically intimate gesture.
2. Timing is important. The context surrounding the personal gesture also matters a lot. For instance, if you’re out on a romantic date with someone, and if there are enough signs of mutual attraction, some physical intimacy may even be expected. Whereas in a professional setting, or when the other person is distracted by something else and is not expecting an invasion of personal space, even an ‘innocuous’ gesture may blow up into something big.
3. Be socially intelligent. Try and read the situation to choose the right gesture. Even with someone you’re intimate with in private times, they may not appreciate it if you do the same in public. Be socially aware of not only the surroundings but also the other person’s body language to guide your choice of action.
4. It does matter. Often there is a tendency to look at invasions of private space as ‘not serious’. But when personal space is invaded, it typically induces a fight-or-flight response in people, and it registers in their long-term memory as an uncomfortable incident, and they will associate you negatively with that memory. It also causes them psychological harm, so it matters a great deal.

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