A friend of mine recently babysat her 3 year old grandchild and took him to the park. There were a lot of children playing and her grandchild, trying to make friends, embraced a little girl he wanted to befriend.
“We are not allowed to touch anyone” the little girl told him. “Touch is banned”.
She was three years old!
There may have been a misunderstanding here about the rules, but this little 3 year old girl was clear.
Then, this week, in a session, I briefly touched a participant on the upper arm as we were going to morning tea to encourage her to join. “Are you joining us?” I asked. “Please don’t touch me” she said. Now, I get that there may be a personal preference, but then she continued, “At our workplace all touching is banned.”
This happened all in one week and I’m sorry, but I am a little flabbergasted, so let’s talk.
Sure we are no longer in Ancient Rome, where it was a custom to kiss when meeting, brothers, friends. Even boxers and wrestlers would touch lips. It was a show of gratitude, reinforced friendship, and was an appropriate display of “salutation” between clients and patrons.
So, could it be true that touching today can be totally banned? The answer unfortunately is, yes. World news rang with the first example when a school in Canada banned touching at Recess (Andrew Ryan November 5 2013) and it has gone from there.
Don’t we go sooooooo black and white when we actually don’t understand a topic! In fact, the reality is that research has shown that interpersonal tactile stimulation provides is an effective means of influencing people’s social behaviours.
I could go on with other research, but suffice to say ‘human touch’ is critical to existence for all people.
The official psychological term for black and white thinking is “splitting.” At its extremes, splitting can be a symptom of mental illness like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In everyday settings, it can simply hold us back from experiencing some of the richness of our lives and relationships.
So, let’s look at the charts of where you can touch people depending on your relationship with them.
So, here is the quiz: Does this picture display suitable behaviour?
Actually, it’s not so simple. At first it looks odd. Clearly, amongst colleagues in the finance industry, it is not suitable (and these rules vary from situation to situation). However, if she has an intimate relationship with these fellows then it IS OK.
Then, even if she does have an intimate relationship, is this suitable behaviour in public. OK, that’s another topic. We could go on and on.
One thing is for sure, the hand shake will NEVER die. It has been around for three thousand years and has lived through all plagues and dramas.
We need touch. Ok, after Covid, in our culture, we are a bit limited, but there are things we can do.
Please remember to at least hand shake if you can and yes, briefly touching the upper arm is Okay as well, but don’t ask me about kindergartens. I’m still flabberghasted.
I’d love to help you bring Gravitas into your leadership communication, don’t miss out on the Gravitas Masterclass and Confident Leader Retreat coming up!
[I’m happy if anyone has a personal preference for no touch but as a general rule, there will be handshakes. OK?]
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