Stand too far, and you’ll seem aloof. Stand too close, and you may have a harassment lawsuit at hand.
According to the book The Simple Art of Business Etiquette written by Jeffrey Seglin, a lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, anthropologist Edward T. Hall described that there are four types of distances you should be aware of when talking to someone. The four distances depend on your relationship with the other person.
Close phase: 12 to 25 feet; far phase: 25 feet or more.
This is the distance you should keep with a friendly acquaintance that you don’t know very well. If you’re just passing by and saying hello, keep this distance.
Close phase: 4 to 7 feet; far phase: 7 to 12 feet
This is for chatting and socializing with co-workers. If you’re discussing at length with someone, the social distance is preferred to the public distance.
Close phase: 1.5 to 2.5 feet; far phase: 2.5 to 4 feet
Only use the personal distance for close friends! If you’re chatting at the water cooler, gossiping about the latest reorganization, or discussing weekend plans, personal distance is completely fine.
Close phase: less than 6 inches; far phase: 6 to 18 inches
Be careful with the intimate distance! This is usually reserved for lovers. Unless you’re staging an office romance, it’s safer to use the other three distances instead.
Younger folks entering the work force may not be completely aware of all the existing business etiquettes. Compared to previous generations, millennial are way more relaxed at work, but that may not be a bad thing.
“Being relaxed in the workplace is not necessarily a bad thing. High anxiety and severe stress aren’t typically conducive to productivity,” Seglin told Bit of News. “So if young people are “more relaxed” than previous generations were (and I’m not sure whether this is the case or not), then that in and of itself is not a back thing.”
So while you should be mindful of the distance you keep when talking to coworkers, don’t be afraid to show your personality and relax.
“Relaxation doesn’t translate to disrespectful or thoughtlessness. Being disrespectful and thoughtless are bad things, whether you do so when you’re relaxed or stressed.”
You can read more about social distance and other business etiquettes in The Simple Art of Business Etiquette by Jeffrey Seglin.