Some people stand really close to each other when they talk. Some people stand across the room when they chat. So, do you close the gap or ask people to back up and provide some space?
Often different cultures have different orientations to social space. Spatial distance is just as powerful a communication component as sight, sound, smell, and touch.
There are a number of different theories when it comes to space. One is protection theory, that we establish a body space buffer zone around ourselves as protection against unwanted touch or attack.
Equilibrium theory holds that intimacy and distance vary together. The greater the intimacy, the closer the distance; the lower the intimacy, the greater the distance.
Finally, expectancy theory explains what happens when you increase or decrease distance between yourself and another in interpersonal interactions.
Researchers, Lustig and Koester, discovered in cross-cultural studies that people in the United States prefer greater distances between themselves and others than do persons living in many Latin American cultures.
People from colder climates have a tendency to use large physical distances when they communicate, whereas, people from warmer climates tend to use small physical distances.
Even Northern European cultures are said to have larger personal space bubbles than southern European cultures.
In some Middle Eastern cultures, people stand close enough to feel and smell each other’s breath.
So, plant your feet and let the other person determine the distance that is comfortable for them.
Space, sight, sound, smell, and touch, all have a significant impact on our interpersonal interactions. Observe others’ behaviors, monitor and manage your own, and enjoy cross-cultural spatial comfort.