How can I work to maintain appropriate conversational or physical distance in conversations?

You probably know that people have a comfort zone regarding how close they like another person to be when they are talking to him or her. It’s so universal that the show Seinfeld had an episode that comically dealt with “close talkers”, those people who are oblivious to the fact that their habitual comfort zone for conversations is closer than most other people’s.

When you are talking face to face with someone, if you are too close (violating the other person’s conversational comfort zone), the other person will tend to be distracted, uncomfortable and often miss out on what you are saying. Not to mention that you may be perceived as too aggressive.

What to do? First understand that interpersonal distance comfort zones tend to be cultural. That is people from different countries and cultures have different zones. Second, you need to understand that you need to pay attention to the reactions of the other person while you are conversing. That’s the key. A person will “tell” you if you are violating their space by tending to move backwards to increase the distance between the two of you.

Once you start to pay attention, you can back off, and avoid what is a common unconscious error — moving back into the person’s space. The keys are to pay attention, and NOT to move back into the space if the person backs up.

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