Are we talking or are you trying to give me an eskimo kiss?
July 16, 2014 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I have a co-worker that is a close-talker and it makes me uncomfortable. We are becoming good friends and I enjoy talking with with her, but if we are face to face I find myself having to back away. If I am sitting at my desk, sometimes she will come behind my desk and stand right next to me while I am sitting in my chair and lean in so that we are face to face. I need some advice on how to non-nonchalantly ask her to not close-talk or at least give me a little bit of space. She is great and I do not want to hurt her feelings so I want to let her know casually if possible. Background if it matters...Im a guy. She is not hitting on me and does not like me (I know because I have seen her do the same to others and she has a long term boyfriend).
posted by frednorton to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My best friend's mom is this way, and when we're together I'm forever saying, "Nancy, you've got to back up, I need 18 inches!"

So next time she's doing this to you, be chill and friendly and just say, "Sabrina, can you back up, I'm one of those people who needs 18 inches of personal space."

She's probably heard it before and won't take it amiss.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2014 [16 favorites]

"Jane, do you ever notice how I back off when you're talking to me? I think my personal bubble is a little smaller than yours. Could you maybe lean back a little?"

If she does, great. If she forgets the next time, say "Personal bubble" and lean back yourself. She'll either get the hint or she's an asshole.
posted by Etrigan at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2014

Perhaps she has some hearing impairment? You could try shifting back while raising your voice, so she isn't leaning forward to compensate.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:35 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Tell her you're farsighted and feel cross-eyed if she stands too close. This actually is the case for me.
posted by HotToddy at 12:35 PM on July 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Oh! Mind the body-bubble, please." might work.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:48 PM on July 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all great. I kind of like blaming it on me (sight issues or personal bubble) so that she doesnt feel self conscious.
posted by frednorton at 12:58 PM on July 16, 2014

You say you've seen her do this to other coworkers, but have you ever seen any of them take any kind of action about it? My first thought would be to do similar things to whoever seems to be dealing with it in the best manner, because my personal first response would be to recoil in terror if someone came up to me and stuck their face right up against mine almost close enough to touch.
posted by elizardbits at 1:03 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That was my initial reaction as well. Now I treat it almost like a game to see how long I can stand there without moving backwards or looking super awkward.
posted by frednorton at 1:10 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

This makes me squirm just thinking about it.

I'd say something like "hey, this is just me, but I like a little more space when I talk."

Then you could tack on something like "it's easier for me to focus on your face" or "easier to listen" or something.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:21 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the direct approach that RuthlessBunny states above but another option is:

"I'm afraid I have coffee breath (a cold, a sore throat, the sniffles) and don't want to breathe on you. I'm going back up a bit."
posted by Fairchild at 1:28 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm thinking, gently raise up your arm between you, but without touching her and say
"I need this much space
(or I feel really uncomfortable and can't focus on what you're saying)."
posted by blueberry at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2014

Response by poster: I was originally going to jokingly ask if she was trying to make out with me but then I thought that might be taken the wrong way.
posted by frednorton at 1:33 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Learn to be direct. Don't prevaricate. It will serve you well.

"Jane, can you back up a few feet? I need more space than this."
posted by DarlingBri at 2:02 PM on July 16, 2014 [14 favorites]

Don't make jokes about making out-too many ways that can backfire. Stick to being direct.
posted by studioaudience at 2:05 PM on July 16, 2014 [11 favorites]

2nd that this may be because of an (undiagnosed) hearing impairment. Try talking louder when she's still on the other side of the desk and she may not feel the need to come around.
posted by amaire at 2:34 PM on July 16, 2014

Perhaps you could handle it gracefully, and do her a little favor too, but just chuckling and saying something like, "Whoa, standing just a little close there, girlfriend!" Make it seem like the most minor of faux pas, like she had a bit of spinach stuck in her teeth or something. If she does it again, chuckle and say, "Whoops. Sorry, I need a little space, again." No shaming, no drama. She ought to get the message that way, and hopefully she'll get it into her head that the close-talking thing is a habit she needs to break.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:36 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also really don't like it when people do that. I think such people do it with everyone, and the reason they do it is either because of vision problems, hearing problems, or lack of social acuity.

I think you need to say something like "It's a little awkward to say this, but it makes me uncomfortable, so I wanted to ask you whether you realize you stand closer to people you are talking to than most people do?" This will both avoid it sounding like it has anything to do with you in particular, and will make the person realize that it's a problem that is not minor because it involves more people than just you. It's also got a softer edge than saying something very direct like "Please move back". In fact, it's got a bit of a helpful flavor to it (a la "in case you didn't know, you might want to know...").
posted by Dansaman at 3:44 PM on July 16, 2014

I just tell people like that that I have an issue with people getting into my personal space, unless they're family or an SO. Most people in most offices take that in good grace. (And I honestly ~do~ have an issue with it. So do most people, except these incredibly socially inept people.)
posted by Meep! Eek! at 3:55 PM on July 16, 2014

I wouldn't make it "A Thing" by pulling her aside and being all, "We need to talk about your personal space issues." One option: I would buy a tub of Purrell and when she stands real close, mention that you're a germophobe and you like people to be at least 2 feet from you. Everytime she'd get close, just say with a laugh "Can you step back a foot?" I heard that a study found humans need at least three feet of personal space to feel comfortable. You can casually mention that as a fun fact.

Another thing to consider: I don't know her background, but in some cultures, personal space just isn't respected. In a lot of (crowded) Asian countries, personal space doesn't really exist or is a very small space. You might be able to mention a story related to that, like some people invading your personal space because they didn't seem to understand it, but you need a least two feet. I've had weird interactions with what were clearly people originally from Asian countries standing extremely and unnecessarily close to me in lines, etc.

Or just send her this page or this one. I like this diagram. Print it out and post it in your cubicle. She will surely notice, maybe say something and you can be like, "Yeah, I'm big on personal space."
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:10 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I try to turn things like this (small, awkward) into a joke as much as possible. As in, 'man are you good looking, but you are kind of a close talker." That's always worked when I have to tell people they are terrible drivers, tucked their skirt into their tights or said something...foolish.
posted by emmatrotsky at 4:18 PM on July 16, 2014

It could be an east coast/west coast thing, too. Different areas seem to face different notions of adequate personal space areas. (Myself, I need lots of personal space. I used to work with someone who liked to stand way close, and it was even more awkward because he must've been about a foot taller than I am, too.)
posted by leahwrenn at 4:52 PM on July 16, 2014

Sometimes I accidentally invade other people's personal space but I'm awkward and don't always notice. If you said something silly like "whoa there, this is just excel, no need to pop my personal bubble" I'd laugh and be super grateful you let me know how to make you feel comfortable and save face despite my Awkward.
posted by samthemander at 6:23 PM on July 16, 2014

I worked with someone like this. They weren't able to learn and compensate on their own. Over time, I found that it worked best to ask for more space than I wanted. So I'd say something like the "I need a couple feet" thing above, and they'd give me the ten inches I really needed.
posted by fake at 7:20 PM on July 16, 2014

Certain cultures don't have the same notions of personal space that I do and I find this is an all or nothing thing. You're definitely in the clear to say "personal bubble!" but I wouldn't expect her to actually remember considering she does this to everyone (and probably has most of her life). Since it sounds like she's cool the best option is probably to have to tell her every single time she is too much in your face. Definitely don't suggest that she get her hearing checked out; while that may be an issue that's actually rude to suggest whereas nicely saying or joking she's close talking you is always appropriate. (I like your make out joke but I don't really care about offending people soooooo .... )
posted by shownomercy at 7:35 PM on July 16, 2014

If talking to her doesn't work, would you feel more comfortable if you turned yourself ninety degrees to one side? Most people's personal bubbles are dramatically egg-shaped, so the comfortable distance varies from multiple feet in front down to an inch or two on the side.
posted by d. z. wang at 7:39 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

To avoid awkwardness, ask for space matter of factly and carry right on talking as soon as she steps back.
"Can you back up a few feet? I need more space than that. Thanks! So what you were saying earlier..."
posted by Omnomnom at 1:03 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a co-worker do this (I'm a woman, and it was a single male co-worker, in case you care). I just said, "Dude, personal space bubble! can you back up a bit?". He did. I said Thanks. We continued with the conversation. He hardly does it at all any more, and when he does I just say "Personal space bubble" and he backs up. No harm no foul. This really doesn't need to be a Thing. Just say she's in your personal space bubble and ask her to back up a bit. Say thanks when she does, and then move on.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:28 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I hate when people do this to me at work, so I have basically moved around my file cabinet and chair to make it more difficult for people to come up right behind me and be in my space.
posted by inertia at 9:13 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Besides just saying something, perhaps start making a lot of hand gestures that are face height, like:
-taking off your glasses, if you wear glasses, and cleaning them.
-incorporating some new, bombastic hang gestures that assert personal space. Mainly around this lady.
posted by tenlives at 10:51 PM on July 17, 2014

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