“Do you need a hug?” I’ve learned to ask this question first before lunging into an embrace of a distressed colleague. Apparently, not everyone likes hugs. A lesson experienced the awkward way.
In this blog we will be exploring Language #5: Physical Touch. This series is based on Gary Chapman & Paul White’s book, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” The book defines “Physical Touch” as appropriate physical contact in an appropriate situation for someone who would receive physical touch appropriately.
The issue of physical contact is touchy in the workplace. Touch is part of human behavior that connects two people more intimately. Not everyone will be open to appropriate physical touches. Let’s explore two of the main concerns.
- Sexual Harassment. Perception and intent are variables in determining what constitutes inappropriateness. As someone who is a touchy-feely person that expresses concern or care through physical touch, sexual undertones would not be on my radar. Sometimes people are starving for affection. Any form of touch can be misinterpreted, then responded to it as a sexual advance. In the workplace, I am more cautious about being affectionate with anyone from the opposite gender.
- Abuse. Victims of abuse have a higher sensitivity to being touched. They may need to protect their personal space. What a teammate thinks is an innocent appropriate touch can create tension for the receiver.
Tips: Pay attention to how someone responds. Appropriate physical touch can be powerful or really awkward. Three variables to consider: the person, the type of work relationship, and the sub-culture. Ask permission or offer before engaging in physical contact. Give the potential receiver the space to say, “I’m not comfortable with that.” Respect their personal boundaries that create safety for them. Don’t immediately take it as a personal rejection.
When we work with the same people for 40+ hours a week, they can feel like family. Physical touch can encourage someone who is struggling, help with emotional healing, and express acceptance. There are some appropriate physical touches in the context of the workplace.
1. Firm Handshake
2. High Five /Fist Bump
3. Pat on the back
4. Hand on shoulder with compliment
When I was in graduate school, the head administrative person was Bessie. She always had a plate of cookies or a snack by her desk for others to take. Bessie had a maternal energy that drew people to her. She listened, she counseled, and most importantly, she gave hugs. Grad school was a stressful time in my educational journey and I wasn’t dating at the time, so I survived on Bessie’s hugs. I’d come into the office and say, “Bessie, I need a hug.” She would stop what she was doing and squeeze the stress right out of me. I always felt a sense of comfort after one of her hugs.
As a social toucher it can be hard to believe people don’t want appropriate physical contact. I find myself being drawn to the
people who reciprocate affection like Bessie. Not all my colleagues will want to be comforted when they are distressed in the same way as me. I can always post sign or get a button to let people know that I give free hugs.
Reflect & Share: What do you consider appropriate physical touch? How do the “touchers” in your workplace express connection (hint: they may want it reciprocated)?
1. Take the assessment to find out what specifically YOU need to feel appreciated. ($15 or free with purchased book). There are specialty assessments for school, medical, non-profit/ministry, military, and long-distance.
2. Buy: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (book)
3. Learn more by watching videos
Read: “I Wanted a Hug but Something Else Happened” Blog by Linda’s Bloughts
Watch: Free Hug video