Personal space is a tricky thing: some people appreciate a good-natured hug or pat on the arm, while for others unsolicited physical contact is offensive. Knowing what's appropriate is crucial to your social and professional survival
According to a survey covered by The Atlantic, 1,300 people from Finland, Italy, Russia and the U.K. were asked where they felt comfortable being touched by strangers, family members, friends, and romantic partners.
Researchers combined the results to create a so-called "heat map." The darker tones represent the areas where the male and female respondents were most uncomfortable being touched by friends, family members, and acquaintances.
The study found British participants were right at the bottom on the touchability index - and contrary to stereotype, Italians were less comfortable with being touched than Russians. Finns, however, ranked among the most cuddly people. Americans, by contrast, are known for needing a large amount of physical space.
Wherever you are, keep in mind the four zones of personal space identified by Dr. Tony Alessandra:
The intimate zone: within touching distance - from actually touching to about two feet. This is the space reserved for people who genuinely care about each other. It's rare to see this space penetrated in business settings.
The personal zone: two to four feet apart. It's used for discussions that are private and not meant to be overheard, say in a busy meeting or at a party. People will avoid breaking this barrier if you are engaged with someone else at this distance. If you're looking to get out of a dull conversation, try moving a foot or two away - this gives space for someone else to move in.
The social zone: four to 12 feet apart. It's used for casual, social conversations because it allows others to enter the group.
The public zone: more than 12 feet. Public speakers and VIPs use space to distance themselves from their audience - demanding more space is a power signal.
Not sure which zone is appropriate? A classic handshake or even a well-executed fist-bump is a good default.