The word "space" can mean many things. For instance, it could simply denote the distance between two points. If you're in the advertising business it could mean pages in a magazine, newspaper or other publication. Advertising salespeople are even called "space cadets." Then there's the subject of outer space, which has been in the headlines a lot lately. Sen. John Glenn repeated his odyssey in space, and just last week an American space shuttle docked with a piece of Russian equipment, linking the first pieces of the international space station, which is scheduled to be completed in 2004. But the definition of space I want to talk about is more down-to-earth. It's very personal, involving how we deal with one another. Have you ever heard someone tell you to "back off and give me some space!"? What that person usually means is that he or she is feeling crowded and needs a little time to think. I've met many people who have forgotten the basic respect of letting others have their personal space.
One of the taboos of selling is crowding people when either presenting to them or meeting them in their offices. I know salespeople who will move articles around on someone's desk without asking permission so they can better show their sales materials. Then after they finish their pitch they can't understand why the other person rejects the proposal. The reason could be very simple: The salesperson has violated the other person's space. That alone is enough to turn a client off. Walking around someone's desk is also a no-no, as is touching the other person. Most of us resent being touched by someone we barely know. Frankly, whether you know someone well or not, it's best to keep your hands to yourself. In the long run you'll be better off, especially in this day and age.
Why the importance of personal space is so difficult for some people to grasp is beyond me. Think of yourself. I don't think anyone likes to feel crowded, no matter what the circumstances. I know of marriages that have disintegrated after a number of years because the husbands or wives never gave their mates an appropriate amount of space. Of course intimacy is important, but what I'm talking about is more like smothering. Teen-agers certainly don't like to be crowded, but some parents are so possessive they rarely allow their sons and daughters time to be alone. And then the parents wonder why their teens start to rebel. All of us need our freedom-freedom to be ourselves, freedom to think, freedom to do some things just for the fun of it. That's part of living, and it's so important for all of us to learn.
Individuals have lamented the lack of personal space for years. There's an old song called "Don't Fence Me In." The first line goes something like this: "Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above-don't fence me in." I think we can all understand that plea. People aren't anti-social just because they don't like it when others violate their space. If we occasionally want to be left alone, it doesn't mean we're strange. In fact, it's probably healthy to feel that way once in a while.
Whether it's from a professional or personal perspective, it's best to give others plenty of space. It just shows respect. Manners have almost gone out of style, so if you want to really impress others, don't crowd them. You may be surprised at how many people will admire you for respecting their privacy.
Charles S. Lauer