Appreciation at Work: Physical Touch (Language #5)

hug_2Do 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

hug_awkwardTips: 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.

Appreciation Applied:

1.  Firm Handshake






2. High Five /Fist Bump








3. Pat on the back

pat on back





4. Hand on shoulder with compliment

hand shake_2





5. Hug in time of crisis or excitement

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.hug_button

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 schoolmedicalnon-profit/ministrymilitary, 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




Filed under communication

5 responses to “Appreciation at Work: Physical Touch (Language #5)

  1. Charmin, great summary of the issues related to physical touch & appreciation in the workplace. An additional issue to note is that of regional and cultural differences. Individuals in the Southern U.S. are more used to and open to physical expressions of appreciation than those in the Northeast. And touch is an important part of the culture to our Latin American friends, where less so in most Asian cultures. Love the pic’s!
    Paul White, PhD
    co-author, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

    • Thank you for commenting and adding more information. It is really cool that you are reading my blog! I really appreciate the value you are adding to it.

  2. Pingback: Appreciation at Work: Recognition is Not the Same as Appreciation | My Journey to a Fulfilled Life

  3. Pingback: Appreciation at Work: Series Overview | My Journey to a Fulfilled Life

  4. Pingback: Appreciation at Work: Series Review | My Journey to a Fulfilled Life

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