Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Reach Out and Touch Someone?

Recently at a wedding, I was speaking with a woman I did not know. She was telling me that her daughter had just started her career as a hair stylist. (I think that is currently the politically correct moniker.) It used to be beauty parlor. What was wrong with that by the way? Who doesn’t want to be made beautiful? And, since when did the word parlor lose favor. Oh well, later. The woman said to me, “I can hardly stand to touch anyone and here she is with her hands on strangers all day.” Huh? Who would you rather befriend? Are you a toucher? Do you hold your friend’s hand (same sex) when you walk down the street? Do you really hug your family and friends or is it just one of those ‘move in’ and ‘pat pat’ hugs. Now don’t be too quick to answer. But do answer. Touching is one of my favorite subjects and I promise to keep the subject going for awhile.

(Photo by Jill Greenseth at; license details there.)


Steven Clough said...

Cool post. This is interesting timing because I just read a journal about physical contact and how even minor contact (brushing up against someone, touching hands when you hand someone something, etc...stuff that's really subtle) can have a huge impact on how people perceive you. When there is physical contact, people we're perceived as being a lot friendlier, warmer, more sincere and trustworthy.

and ps, congrats on the top blog spot. You're a rockstar! ;)

Blue Viking said...

Hi Theresa,

Let me be the first person to congratulate and thank you for an excellent program yesterday at the GSB. I was a student in the afternoon session. I found the whole program informative and funny. I talked to several of my classmates later on and they all had the same feedback.

Thank you,

Vivek Singhania

Kristin said...

Tough question posed and I don't have a definitive answer on who I would want to befriend. My preference lies somewhere in the middle; I don't walk down the street holding my friend's hands, but my family and close friends are certainly huggers - the real kind, not a "pat pat" either.

After reading your blog, I posed the question of my hair stylist, whose response was "I never really thought about it" but that I have, I am kinda grossed out by it!

Anonymous said...

I come from a warm friendly Australian family who always greeted each other with a hug after separations. I find the American habit of rushing up and hugging just about anybody slightly off-putting - I see a girlfriend of mine (lives next door) almost every weekend and if she rushes up to me with her arms wide open one more time I will throw up. I have reached the point where I avoid going near her. I think my issues are probably more with her than the hugging, but what's with all this physical demonstration with near strangers

Anonymous said...

For touching, different guy friends respond differently but a lot depends on the context. I recently said by to two of my chums at an airport. One did a nice hug while the other a more formal handshake. I was fine with both.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

Thanks to everyone for the comments. I love hearing from you!

@ Steven - Every day employees are being told not to touch fellow co-workers in the name of harrassment protection. What happened to common sense?

@ Anonymous #1 (Australian family) - I am not Dr. Phil, but I think you just don't like your neighbor. As cultures go, Americans touch less than most.

@ Anonymous #2 (Hug v handshake) Both hug and handshake are touches - Both are physical ways to reach out and let someone know you are taking the time to be interested.

Nayana said...

Hi Theresa,
I also want to thank you for your talk at GSB last Saturday. It was very interesting.

My side of the family is very demonstrative. We hug each other on birthdays, when we meet or say good bye even if we are meeting after a couple of days. I personally think that this makes us closer to one another. I also feel that this makes us warmer people. My husband's side of the family on the other hand is very "hands-off" literally. The parents and the kids see each other after months and months and say "Hi" with no "touch" involved at all. To someone like me, this behavior was really unsettling.
I definetely think that they are all a bit cold. They are very nice people underneath but they dont make you comfortable at all.

Rick said...

Wonderful blog, Theresa. Very glad you found me through the Strauss Blog-in, which led me to you. Lots of great information here. I'll recommend your blog to my friends.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

@ blue viking and @ nayana - Thanks for the kind words. I enjoyed the class as usual and always look forward to the interaction. Thanks for stopping by my blog ... hope you'll keep coming back to add your thoughts.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

@ Rick - Thanks for visiting and recommending my blog to your friends. I love hearing from new readers! Great that Liz's show helped us connect!

Anonymous said...

Theresa - your GSB discussion on touching brought up some of the positives about this, but we did not address the downsides. The touching aspect for me varies (arbitrarily) based on the specific person and any touching beyond a handshake is grounds for potential discomfort. For example, I have worked with a few guys, who I refer to as the "hebeee geebee kind," who make me and even guys in my office feel uncomfortable. One of these creepy seeming guys could touch me on the shoulder, and I would feel uncomfortable. Meanwhile, I must say that I am biased. For example, I worked with a guy, who was sitting with me when I was wearing a above-knee skirt. He hit my thigh, as a friendly gesture, and it didn't bother me one bit. I have very professional, yet amicable, relations with this guy, and he is not the creepy kind. Then, there are the huggers, which I have to say, depending on who it is, my response can range from a nice reciprocal hug back to a hesitant response. What I am getting at is that you made good points about the positives of touching, and I could probably "tattle" to HR about any touching beyond a handshake, but how can I personally manage the less desireable "touchers", particularly when I have different comfort levels with different people?

Theresa Zagnoli said...

You have a very good point and I think we would all agree that being touched by someone who we don't like is just plain icky. Remember this blog is about communication and how to persuade others to do what we want them to do. You have to use your style and then incorporate some of the techniques you have learned. A humorous threat could be issued, such as "move your hand or I am going to call my dad". Or you could ask for a favor as in, “could you do me a favor, I am really uncomfortable with that". Wait until the next time you get the hand on the shoulder to try a technique and make it work for you.

As for the huggers, they can usually feel when a hug is not reciprocated. Mostly think about touch and how it can benefit you as the toucher. And as you become a more frequent toucher watch for signs from those who you might make uncomfortable.