Question: How much personal space is ideal? If you stand too far away you appear disinterested and if you’re a space invader it makes people uncomfortable, so what’s the expected amount of personal space?
Quick Advice: Stand about arms length apart from the person you’re speaking to.
What Does the Science Say?
In the United States, if you’re speaking to someone one-on-one, the amount of space has traditionally been thought of as 18 inches. But more nuanced cross-cultural research suggests that it depends on how well you know the person and there is interesting variability between countries.
The average man has an arm length of about 26 inches, which is about halfway between 18 inches customary for close relationships and 36 inches for acquaintances or strangers. So arm’s length is a good, rough approximation of how much space to maintain.
Find the original research at the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology or Scholar Google. Also, see a great write-up by Amanda Erickson in the Washington Post and more social skill considerations in Awkward – Chapter 3.
Sorokowska, A., Sorokowski, P., Hilpert, P., Cantarero, K., Frackowiak, T., Ahmadi, K., … & Blumen, S. (2017). Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48(4), 577-592.