Advice column: am I overreacting if I want to take steps against a colleague who invades my personal space?

Dear Ash,

I am concerned about the behaviour of one of my colleagues, who has a habit of encroaching upon my personal space, to the point at which I can smell his breath at times, which is not pleasant in itself! He has a tendency to come over to my desk to speak about work and then ends up placing his face very close to mine. I feel extremely uncomfortable in such situations and because I’m not sure how to react, I often just tend to freeze up. I don’t want to be accused of overreacting or of causing problems in the office, but I am anxious about the situation, especially as I have to work with this colleague on a number of cases. How do I deal with the issue?

 

Ash replies:

Personal space is like an invisible boundary around a person’s body into which other people may not encroach. When two people are talking to each other, they normally tend to remain a specific distance apart as determined by the closeness of their relationship. Sometimes the male of the species however, seems unaware of encroaching on someone’s personal space: e.g. on public transport, males sometimes have a tendency to spread their limbs and take up more of the space. It is not necessarily deliberate, but still uncomfortable for others nonetheless.

Your colleague may not necessarily be aware that he is encroaching on your space. It is best therefore to make your discomfort evident the next time it happens by clearly moving out of the situation. He should hopefully realise through your body language that you are not prepared for him to be so close, and there should not be any further incidents.

However, if the behaviour continues, then you need to make clear verbally that you do not feel comfortable with him being so close. You should be firm but polite and make clear that you would not feel comfortable for any work colleague to stand so close. This should ensure that he gets the message loud and clear. If there are however, any incidents after this then you need to speak to your manager in order to address the situation.

We are all individuals and all have different boundaries of personal space, therefore do not ever feel guilty about defending your personal boundaries as this is what helps define you as a person.

 

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

 

 

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or KatieWood@lawscot.org.uk
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