Communicate from a comfortable distance

By Kendall Martin

At a previous job, I reported to a man who was an infamous close-talker. No matter how far I backed up, he continued to get closer. I noticed he did this with any person with whom he felt comfortable. It wasn’t personal, but I still didn’t like it.

Beyond the occasional bad breath, the invasion of my personal space was a serious problem for me. Without knowing the appropriate tactics to deal with such a situation, however, I usually suffered silently or did my best to avoid one-on-one conversation with him.

Fortunately, since then I’ve learned a few tactics that will help you put some much needed space between yourself and a close-talker. Use these strategies, and suffer no more:

  • Move your body to the side. Rather than backing up, which often only encourages the close-talker to move forward, try pivoting your body to the side. This way you will no longer be directly facing the speaker.
  • Put something between you. If you are holding a drink or folder, put your arm with the object in between you to signal that you are occupying more space.
  • Cough into your hand. Sometimes a cough will signal a close-talker to back off.
  • Talk louder. Some close-talkers are not motivated by rudeness or a lack of social skills, but rather by legitimate hearing problems. Raise your volume so that they can hear you from a more acceptable distance.
  • Leave the conversation. When all signals have failed to move the close-talker back, find a reason to excuse yourself from the conversation.

What tips or tricks do you have for dealing with close-talkers?

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