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Taking your first steps into higher education
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3.1 Appropriate space

Knowledge of what is seen as the appropriate space between people is important in any culture. It helps avoid embarrassing mistakes such as standing too close to someone.

Our knowledge about appropriate interpersonal (between people) space is implicit or tacit – it is understood without being stated.

However, there are situations in which these rules are broken.

Even in a lift attempts are made to maintain personal space
Figure 6

Apart from being crowded together, in life there are also times, for example in health and social care and when working with children, when it is important to be very aware of the interpersonal space they are supposed to maintain with others. Health care practitioners, for example, need consent before crossing the boundary into someone’s intimate space. In these circumstances knowledge has to be stated or explicit (rather than tacit).

Our behaviour gives out a constant stream of clues which can be ‘read’ by others. For example, if someone leans away from you, you may well move a step back yourself because you recognise their discomfort with being close. But it is also possible you may label them as being ‘oversensitive’ or ‘stuck up’. This is a judgement made on very little evidence and can lead to what is called stereotyping.