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For the next installment on the human lessons, we have space – Kathryn explains it better than anyone else I’ve heard.

Don’t Violate Others’ Space

Just as listening is the quickest way to earn someone’s trust, violating someone’s space is the quickest way to kill it.  It is also a violation that will be remembered the longest, takes away points earned in other areas, and may never be fully forgiven. This one is so important, David, I would focus on this first and foremost.

“Space” has three main elements:

  • Personal space – The area directly around the person
  • Home space – Where the person lives or feels some sort of ownership
  • Time space – The time during which people need to themselves without interruption to work, to pursue some activity, or to be with their significant others

Unfortunately, the boundaries of “space” are hugely personal, and thus vary widely from person to person. A distance that feels comfortable to you can be well within the threat zone for someone else.  I have learned (again, oftentimes the hard way), that members of our family have smaller boundaries than most.  Perhaps it was because Mom was such an open person, or that Mom and Dad came from a much different generation and society has changed.  All I know is that what seemed normal to us growing up is not normal for most people I know.

Here are a few tips that will help keep you in the safe zone for space:

Personal Space

Some people refer to this as a “bubble.”  Usually, people who refer to it as a bubble have a pretty big one around them and want others – even family members and long time friends – to stay a good distance outside that bubble. Maintaining a space of four feet away is typically OK; it can be a bit less if sitting, but not by much.  (Tall people make others feel really uncomfortable in close quarters, so sitting reduces the height difference and a bit of the discomfort.)  Three feet of proximity starts the warning bells for many, and two feet or less is just way too close.

Given that you know we’re handicapped in regards to personal-space comfort, I suggest that you not even try to guess the distance of someone’s comfort zone. Rather, let others enter your space and let them stop where they feel comfortable.

Home Space

This is another type of space where we, as a family, differ from others.  Mom loved company and she didn’t care how she got it.  Someone could show up at her house in the middle of the night, unannounced, and she would welcome them in, make them feel completely at home, and try to get them to stay for three weeks.  This is totally not the norm.

People need to feel in control of their surroundings.  Just like a door-to-door salesman or a burglar, an unexpected visitor threatens that sense of control and feels like a violation.  Again, no matter who it is – family, friend or someone you have known for a short time – just showing up without prior arrangements will destroy trust quickly.

Time Space

This one is the hardest to predict, because you truly do not know what others’ schedules are and what they may or may not have planned already.

We all have times when something pops into our heads and we want to talk to that other person right away.  It’s OK to call people on the telephone, but it’s best not to call during times that you know they are at work or are participating in other activities, like church.  One may reason that, “If they are busy they won’t answer the phone.” However, you may end up embarrassing that person because he or she forgot to turn their ringer off and can’t get to their phone quickly enough to avoid disruption.  For most people, texting (or emailing, for those who don’t text) is a better solution; it allows you to get the thought out while it’s still in your head, yet allows the other person the luxury of deciding when they will answer you.

When you do call, verify it’s a convenient time for that other person to talk. Just because the other person picked up the phone, doesn’t mean that it is a good time for them to talk.  (We all have that niggling fear that someone is calling because it’s an emergency, so we pick up the phone even though we really don’t want to.)

Now you may ask, how can you verify it’s a convenient time to talk?  Simple:  Ask the other person, right after you say hello to each other.  Avoid the temptation to immediately start spilling out what’s in your head and getting to the point of why you called.

Think of it this way: If you launch immediately into the purpose of your call, you are forcing the other person to do one of two things:

  1. Cut you off midsentence so they can tell you that they can’t talk (thus making them feel like they have to be rude, which no one likes), or
  2. Listen until you are done talking at them (which they will only do grudgingly, unless they really do want to talk to you).

On the other hand, if you start the phone call with, “Is this is a good time to talk?” you are showing respect for the other person’s time and current activities and are giving him / her a choice to continue the conversation or not.

Keep in mind that although phone calls are less invasive than unannounced visits, they can still become burdensome.  If you are calling more than twice a week, three times tops, it’s probably too much.  Again, take your cues from others. If they want to seek you out, they will call you.   (And remember, if you are a good listener, others will want to talk to you and will go out of their way to call you.)

I know that time space was an issue I had at work.  If I needed information I would interrupt people to get it.  I finally realized one day that what other people were working on may be as important or more important to the business than what I was doing.  Also, my failure to gather information earlier was not their emergency.  I started using means other than getting in people’s faces for info and I planned ahead leaving time to followup.  If using email, I would let them know in the subject line that I need decisions or information or an action.  It helps things run smoother.  
As for people calling me – lets just say I’m a believer that my phone must only work one way because no one calls me.  Hmm, I probably still need work on my listening.