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I was chatting with Dana, the new intern from the US about how she was getting on. She had come out to Bengaluru in India for an internship of 2 months – her first trip outside the United States.

Her observations included the fact that she hadn’t seen so many people in one place in all her life. The cricket matches of the Indian Premier League were on and with friends she had seen a few on TV and one in person. The Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru is quite big but is nothing compared to Kolkata’s Eden Gardens which for a good match can house more than 100,000 people!

Apart from the sheer number of people, she mentioned that while people seemed friendly enough, a fair number of them seemed to get up so close in the course of their work that she felt uncomfortable. She felt so because she was used to people keeping a farther distance in the work situation in the US.

Edward Hall, an American sociologist wrote about “Proxemics” in which he said we like to maintain some space from others while we go about our lives. He called the distances typically maintained as:

Intimate: For embracing, touching or whispering: Less than 6 inches to 18 inches

Personal: For interactions amongst good friends:1.5 to 4 feet

Social: For interactions amongst acquaintances: 4 to 12 feet

Public: For speaking in public: 12 to 25 feet.

In most business interactions, we would operate from the “social” distance. Invading others space, even inadvertently, can cause discomfort and if repeated often, hostility. The definition of “space” varies from culture to culture. Be sensitive to these differences. Observe what most people do to get some sense of their idea of space.

After all, you should not be placed in embarrassment because you did not know how close is too close.

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This is Post No: 175 of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success