A Space About Space

Sept. 25, 2023


Two thoughts about space, unrelated to stratospheres. The first has to do with workspace and specifically where meetings are held in relation to that space. The second consideration addresses our personal space, comfort zones, and how to consciously not encroach on someone else’s turf or they ours.




In an office environment, if given the choice, I’ve consistently found it most advantageous to meet at a neutral location. Absent that option I secondarily look to meet in someone else’s office.




One benefit is for the purpose of time management. When someone is in your office, you become hostage to their time and needs. Attempts to exit somewhere else when you are ready are awkward. For one, where are you going to go?


Of course, Interruptions naturally occur during our days. There are always going to be people who need us to answer a question, provide guidance, or give clarity. If yours is a warm and welcoming environment, someone may just want to come in to shoot the breeze for a moment. Though some would argue that as an unproductive encounter, those moments should not be overlooked for their value in building levels of trust and understanding, essential ingredients for collaboration.


A second argument for neutral meeting sites is appearances. Especially if the meeting involves a member of the opposite sex, a setting that offers not only confidentiality, but transparency is essential. We not only want to avoid impropriety, but any situations that may create an appearance of such.


Third, the playing field is leveled. Especially for subordinate employees, being beckoned to the boss’s office can be intimidating.


Finally, particularly in those instances where the meeting takes place in the other person’s office, it allows the chance to learn more about the individual. They may have pictures of family, diplomas and awards received, and the opportunity to determine if they favor order or chaos by the way their space is maintained may be revealed.


Personal Space


Beyond our work environments, what is your tolerance for proximity to others? Is your personal comfort area six inches away from another person’s face or more like six yards? How are you with arm rests on airplanes? Comfortable with making physical contact with the person

next to you, more likely to mark full ownership of the arm rest, or content to defer the property to the adjacent individual, resigning yourself to ergonomic discomfort for the next couple or more hours?


Psychology Today reported on a 2017 study of airline passengers in the UK.


“Airlines provide a perfect lab to study how people feel about their personal space because seats are close together, there’s no space due to the fact that those seats are close together, there’s no escape for the duration of the flight, and there’s little you can do to protect yourself from people who don’t respect boundaries.


In summary the study found that participants, in response to “assaults on their space,” felt a range of negative reactions, with the most common being annoyance, followed by discomfort, irritation, and anger. Remedies ranged from confrontation, recapturing an armrest when the other passenger visited the restroom, or a variety of nonverbal strategies such as sighing, hinting, or turning away. All of these negative strategies were more likely to occur between strangers, than between close friends.”


To sum up, the study suggested five tips for coping when personal space issues occur on an airplane, or in other instances for that matter.


1. Be kind to your friends. You do have more freedom to invade the personal space of people you know well, however, don’t take for granted they won’t mind you closing in on them.

2. Look around you. Be respectful and attentive to boundaries.

3. Confront if you can, but not if you can’t or it would be inappropriate. In this instance either distract yourself or at least send out signals that the invasion is not ok.

4. Sniff, but don’t snoop. Be aware of your own sensory intrusions—strong scents, talking loudly, or asking overly personal questions.

5. Learn to read body language.


The scent of a tuna fish sandwich is repulsive to me, to the extent of my having to excuse myself to a distance of at least 20 feet should Charley the Tuna make his presence known. My coping mechanism is a deft relocation. Absent that, I transition to mouth breathing.


What is your “space invader” and your responsive technique?


The Seed Sower