The invisible barrier or bubble that surrounds any living organism is called, personal space. This is one of the most important characteristics that human beings, use to interact and bond with other people, but everyone’s personal space is different, and being aware of this is vital for establishing good relationships among people. According to Oxford Dictionary (2004), personal space could be define as “the physical space immediately surrounding someone, into which any encroachment feels threatening to or uncomfortable for them”.
Personal space depends on multiple factors, one of these aspects is the cultural factor, which directly depends on the origin and background of the person involved. This cultural difference can be misunderstood and generate several conflicts, especially in the business area. As Bonvillian and Nowlin (1994) stated, “professional behavior in corporate America may be perceived as arrogance, insensitivity, overconfidence, or aggressiveness in another culture”.
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This could result in the American business person being perceived as insensitive to other cultures and jeopardize the person’s working relationship with international counterparts. This factor must be considered to avoid any personal space conflict. Another factor that contributes to personal space is the situation or context the person is being exposed to which will determine the space between each individual. This will generate different reactions depending on it.
For example, the use of intimate distance in public is not considered proper by adults, as Hall (1966) observed, “crowded subways and buses may bring strangers into what would ordinary be classed as intimate spatial relations, but subway riders have defensive devices. The basic tactic is to be as immobile as possible and when an extremity touches another person, withdraw if possible. If is not possible, the affected area is kept tense”. The previous reaction was the result of pre-defined distance among people in public spaces.
The personal space distance, also includes the distance between individuals when talking which, is another problem that must be known and respected. Most individuals have a specific amount of space that they maintain between themselves and others when conversing. Bonvillian and Nowlin (1994) say, as an example, that “Americans are typically made uncomfortable by the close conversation distance of Arabs and Africans. In the same respect, Arabs and Africans may feel rejected by the lengthy personal distance Americans maintain”.
Personal space is directly impacted, by eye contact. Eye contact is powerful because it can have so many different effects, for example, it can be intimidating, inappropriate, social, helpful and even accusatory. So the direction of gaze could significantly affect the violation of personal space. Buchanan, Goldman and Juhnke (1977) exposed the following, “gazing directly at potential personal space violators appeared to decrease spatial violation, while avoiding the possibility of eye contact increased spatial invasion”.
This supports the suggestion that gaze can modify the reaction to a possible personal space violation. As a result of the previous background reading related to the topic of personal space and visual gaze it is predicted that people that maintain eye contact will remain further apart compared to those who withhold eye contact. The experiment will compare data from people approaching a confederate under the two conditions.