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I don't like it when people are physically too close to me. When standing, this isn't a problem since I can move a little and distance myself from the person being too close to me. However, when sitting, moving can be harder or not possible.

It seems that, on average, I need more personal space than other people, so the situation where someone is too close to me happens a lot. I encounter this problem with strangers, coworkers and even my aunt.

So, is there any non-verbal clue that I could use to let another person know that they are sitting too close to me?

Currently, my main issue is with a coworker sitting too close to me but if there is a solution that would work for strangers and family too, that would be great.

Note: I feel like verbal communication wouldn't be a good option because verbal communication tends to be more confrontational and see as ruder than non-verbal one.

Notes and clarifications

  • With coworkers, they usually get too close when they are coming to me or my coworker's desk. We both have our own chairs and they are easily moved, but my computer isn't so easy to move on my desk (because there is a lot of stuff on my desk).

  • For my aunt, this happens when I'm sitting on a bench and she will sit really close to me, even when there is plenty of room on the bench.

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I don't know the word for it but the gesture is like a lurch. What you want to do is move your upper body farther away from the person while not moving from your actual seated spot. Leave your hips where they are. This indicates that you need your space but would prefer not to physically move yourself. (Which also has the subtle indication that you would like the other person to move.)

One key thing to pulling this off is your facial expression and demeanor while doing it. It is hard when confronted with a displeasurable situation like having your personal space invaded not to come off a bit disgusted. If you move your body away from someone while also looking disgusted it is likely to come off as rude and passive aggressive which you stated you were trying to avoid. So, a smile isn't necessary, but can help. A smirk at least.

Doing the gesture slow and deliberate also helps. If done fast it can indicate revulsion and disgust, but done slowly can indicate that it is being done as a gesture of communication.

This answer is based on my personal experience with the same issue. I tend to need more personal space as well but it isn't always appropriate to use words to explain it. Do note that any non-verbal cues may go unnoticed or unheeded, as some people are unable to pick up on nonverbal cues, and some are unwilling to act on them. You may then decide if that justifies the use of verbal instructions. (I sometimes feel more comfortable using my words after I have tried to indicate more subtly and it not working.)

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Note : After rereading your post and my answer, I realized it doesn't really answer your question of making them aware they're taking up space. Those are more strategies to get space back. I also don't have ideas on how telling them non-verbally that they are too close without being passive-aggressive or rude. I do hope this still helps you but if you want this answer deleted I understand.


I was going to treat those two example you gave separately, but in the end the advice I have is quite the same :

  • Move a bit away from the other person, as much as you're comfortable with. Also, once the other person has sat down, it's unlikely they'll move again just to be closer to you (unless they can't hear you or just love cosying up to people).
  • Turn your body a bit to face the person. It's weirder to be close to someone face to face then side by side, so it should feel natural for everyone to have that extra space there that you created.
  • If possible, use your legs as a barrier. This will mostly work with a desk chair : when turning slightly towards your colleague, extend your legs a bit. This will fill up the space and stop your colleague from coming closer to you if he wanted to. (This is under the assumption you mind less your legs being in close proximity to other legs and more about your face having some space).
  • When you're on a bench, you can use other stuff to put between you and the other person, like a bag, a coat...

As for your desk, clean it up a bit to be able to move your mouse and/or keyboard if need be. Or just clean up in the moment, just enough to be able to move what needs to be moved.

Your attitude is everything here if you don't wish to hurt someone or start a conversation. Act as if you're making yourself comfortable. Don't make a point of just being away from them. The small gesture of turning your body slightly towards them should convey that you moved to be able to talk to them better. In fact, this is how I often act when someone comes by my desk (and not because I don't like being close to them, it feels natural to me) : I back up a bit and turn to face them. If we need to look together at my computer I let them take the space they want and I place myself afterward as I want. This sometimes means moving some stuff on my desk.

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