The Luv Doc
How Close is Too Close?
There is a guy who just transferred into my office from another division and he has no sense of personal space. When he talks to me in the hall or if (God forbid) he is sitting by me in a meeting, his face is so close to mine I can feel his breath. It totally creeps me out. He is a nice guy, but everyone avoids him now because of this. How can I politely tell him to back off without hurting his feelings?
Dear Invaded, I am currently answering this question while wearing a shirt that says, “Let’s hug it out.” Yes, irony is my bitch. I am sure there is a T-shirt with “bitch” attached to the end of that phrase, but it wasn’t available in the dollar barrel at Top Drawer. Thus, I am rocking this cornflower blue beauty, not because I am particularly huggy, but because, in my friends’ estimation, I am particularly not. This is not to say that I have an aversion to get physically up into someone’s business, it is just that I wasn’t raised in a huggy family so that kind of greeting doesn’t come naturally to me. In my family, hugs were performed mainly as the precursor to a suplex body slam that usually evolved into an all-out fist fight (not in the face).
Over the years, I have come to understand that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily ascribe to that notion of physical affection, and so I’ve taken steps (baby) to drag myself back toward the middle of the road – like this cornflower blue “Let’s Hug It Out” T-shirt. I have a great set of friends, and I don’t want them to think of me as a non-hugging asshole because, deep down in my crunchy, crust-covered heart, I don’t think that’s true. I am just programmed on a Pavlovian level to keep my distance.
You see where I am headed here? (Well, other than in for an awkwardly long hug?) This new guy probably has no idea that he’s consistently violating the personal space zone – which actually varies by culture and region. Texas is a big state with a lot of room to move around, but outsiders don’t necessarily understand that it translates to our personal interactions as well. You might be most successful addressing this problem as a cultural issue – by letting this fellow know that in Texas we like wide open spaces. We talk louder and slower not because we’re stupid, but so we can be heard from a comfortable distance. Be gentle but persistent. He may eventually back off. If he doesn’t, you may need to get a restraining order.