Monday, August 1, 2011

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Most of us would agree that a gentle touch on the forearm, by someone that we know and care about, can bring us comfort, warmth, a sense of well-being, understanding, caring...  It can communicate many positive and heartfelt emotions, depending upon the situation and other outward signals of the sender.  Did you know though...  that the same touch, given by a stranger, can be surprisingly persuasive?

Consider the following research findings...
  • Diners are more inclined to give their wait staff larger tips if they have been touched casually by them
  • Strangers are more likely to perform small mundane tasks for others if they were touched on the forearm when the request was made
  • Women are more likely to dance with you if you touch them lightly and briefly on the arm when asking
  • If you touch a library user lightly on the arm when they register for your services they are more likely to rate your service favourably than those not touched when registering
Behavioural studies have certainly demonstrated, over and over, that we are much more favourably responsive to the other party (either them directly, or their requests) when we are touched casually (on the forearm) in conversation with them.  New research out, (A. Shirmer and colleagues) has shown that the source of the touch doesn't matter at all, it is the sense of being touched that enhances the brain's response.  Their study indicated that emotional information, when presented concurrently with touch, may be more motivating to the individual's brain, which then devotes more processing resources to that information.

Implications?  Certainly it's clear from an influence standpoint.  If you have developed enough rapport with the other party to enter their personal space, touching them briefly on the forearm when making a request of them will enhance the likelihood of gaining their agreement or support.  You could even forego making a request, simply use touch as a means of building and cementing the positive rapport you have been establishing, creating a stronger sense of relationship and good will.

Bear in mind...  I am talking about a brief touch, on the forearm.  Touching longer, anywhere other than the forearm is going to give you a reaction other than the favourable one we're after here!  I think that in our touch-phobic business world, we have swung so far onto the side of complete touch-avoidance that we have likely increased the impact and effect that appropriate touch would have.  I have definitely noticed a greater emphasis on the handshake in recent years, perhaps because it is our only remaining 'appropriate' form of physical contact within the realm of the business environment. 

Perhaps there is a small psychological advantage for those who do implement a small touch here and there.  Such an innocuous gesture may provide an even more significant positive effect when used with an audience that is now missing any form of physical connection with their audience.  A subtle way to stand out and enhance your likability and promotability?  It would seem so.

My final piece of advice for you regarding touch and the workplace.  Are you confused by the definition of forearm?  Not sure what the definition of a light gentle touch is?  Still trying to distinguish in your mind the difference between a touch and a grasp?  Then... don't.  Just... don't!

1 comment:

  1. every once in a while in our lives, we've to touch other peoples lives and make a difference.


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