Violation of your Personal Space
It probably wouldn’t take you very long to vividly recall a time when your personal space
was violated. Maybe you were sitting in a coffee shop and someone sat down at your table or
perhaps you were settling in for a department meeting and a co-worker sat down and then moved
the chair even closer to you. Regardless of the situation, when someone violates your personal
space it is extremely uncomfortable. How then, can you deal with it?
Unconscious Reactions to Violations of Personal Space
Everyone has automatic, unconscious reactions to violations of their personal space. These
reactions happen so swiftly and so unconsciously that if you were to ask someone about theirs,
most would have to think very carefully to identify them. It’s simply not something most people
have to think about at all; their reactions are more like a reflex than anything else.
What are some of these common reactions? Here’s just a sampling:
Move away – When someone gets a bit too close, moving away is the most natural and
automatic reaction. This may be accomplished with body movement, such as leaning back, or
more pronounced movement, such as moving your chair away, sliding your entire body away, or,
in extreme cases, even getting up and moving to a different location.
Put up a personal barrier – This conjures up images of building a wall, but it is usually
something far less complicated. For instance, you might rearrange your books or papers so they
are between you and the other person; or, you might change arm position so that your arm is raised
or manoeuvred into a position blocking the other person.
Body position – In most cases, this is a combination of moving away and putting up a barrier.
For instance, you might turn slightly so your back is to the other person, effectively creating a
barrier. Or, you might turn your head, avoid eye contact, raise your book or reading material, and
If you think about it, you can probably remember many different times in your life where you
have used these automatic reactions when your space was violated. Some people, however, make a
conscious decision to protect their personal space deliberately and actively.
Deliberate Reactions to Violations of Personal Space
Some people make quite deliberate decisions about how to deal with violations of their
personal space. Their responses are often passive, but may also be quite active in some cases.
Here’s a sampling of some common actions:
Spread out – This is very common in situations where you are sitting at a table that others
might choose to sit at as well, such as at the library or in a cafeteria. As the other person
approaches and begins to infringe upon your personal space, you spread out your belongings –
books, purse, backpack, shopping bags, and jacket, anything – into the space around you. This
visually communicates your boundaries and also works as a barrier between you and the other
Turn your back – This is another tactic to protect your personal space from another person.
You might casually shift your position so your back is to the other person, or even reposition your
chair with your back acting as a barrier between the two of you.
Ask the other person to move – This is an active response typically used by people with a
great deal of self-confidence and self-esteem. When a person begins to violate your personal space,
you simply ask them to move away a bit. If you’re not quite confident enough to be that bold, you
might tell them you’re expecting someone else to arrive soon and you’d like to keep the space
available for that person.
Verbal warning – In cases where you feel particularly threatened you might give the other
person a verbal warning that you’re uncomfortable and could they please move away. It might be
something simply like “please stop” or something more directive like “you’re sitting/standing too
close to me, could you please move back”.
Most people focus more on passive measures than on active measures when their personal
space is violated. It is simply too intimidating or uncomfortable to reclaim that space directly.