Don’t lose touch
Touch is the perfected sense that plays a unique role in generating and maintaining the sense of self. In short, as humans we need touch. Yet in modern society we are losing touch with touch.
We touch the world, the world touches us. We gather sensory information, we shape ourselves, we develop as babies and youngsters and we are connected through touch. Without touch, the world and the sense of self would not exist in a healthy way.
A few months ago I orchestrated a touch experience at the DisruptHR Edinburgh (click here for my actual DisruptHR talk about the cost of pain to your business) that was duly taken up by most in the room. Katrina was watching (and touching). She asked if I would to do something similar at DisruptHR London. That was last Tuesday.
And touch we did! Some people engaged with great style and panache, whilst a few were awkward–the variation I expected. There was a buzz in the room as people engaged and bonded, for this is what happens when we touch with this kind of intent. Get that affiliation system going!
Chemicals were released, oxytocin and more, and we felt good. It was easy for me to facilitate as everyone was there to learn, to meet others and to share. We were all primed.
I had some great conversations afterwards with pro-touchers. Of course they came over and laid a hand on me as they introduced themselves: a hand shake, a touch on the arm, a hand on the shoulder. Looking at someone and touching them at the same time conveys a message. What is your message?
“Was a really great talk! Honestly never seen an audience so engaged.”
Miles, regular DisruptHR attendee and now touch participant
We stroked. The room was stroking. First we stroked ourselves and then we stroked someone else. In the video you’ll see the action and perhaps some bemusement. But what are we doing?
A light and gentle stroke activates specialised nerve endings that only respond to this type of touch. It is a system dedicated to bonding, affiliation and soothing. Can you think of a time when you sought to comfort someone you care about? What did you do with your hand? Or in helping a young child get off to sleep, what do you do? Stroking is a potent practice. We can even sooth ourselves.
We moved on to stroking the person in the next seat. The brain patterns and the experiences are different when we stroke ourselves versus stroking someone else. The excitement bubbled up, but there is a serious message about the importance of touch for a healthy sense of self. The bodily sense of self plays a significant role in how we feel and the decisions that we make. In turn this impacts upon our quality of life and performance.
Chronic pain as an embodied experience for example, has a huge impact upon the sense of self and the way we engage with the world, others and the body. Often people disengage and lose the connections that are needed for wellbeing, affecting all areas of life (see my talk above for the cost of pain to business).
We must make a judgement about when and where to touch. The intent and context create the backdrop. Some people may react defensively or sensitively, and there are known reasons such as early life trauma and autism. Well publicised cases of inappropriate behaviour and abuse appear to have influenced the way society thinks about touch. Terrible and tragic as these situations have been, we must not lose touch with each other.
How often do you touch loved ones?
The people we love should receive the most touches from us: partners, children, friends, family. We need touch from out loved ones. Touch is a way of conveying loving messages, supporting and caring.
So here is a question…
Do you touch your device more than your loved ones? You can find out how much time you spend touching your phone: screen time. Then estimate how much time you spend fully engaged with your important people. What is the ratio?
Touch is not always possible. For instance, a loved one maybe away or live in another country. We can still touch each other using different forms of communication. Sometimes we are touched by the words from another. Do you remember what it was like to receive a hand written letter?
Touch at work
Is it ok to touch colleagues? It will depend upon the individual preferences, the context, the relationships and the intent. That’s a lot of variables, and there will be more. Some of the people I spoke to said that they are touchers without thought. They make contact with others as their authentic selves, using touch naturally and within their normal way of connecting.
Hand shakes are welcome (man to man, and so goes the etiquette, woman to man when the lady offers her hand first–people will have views on this). A pat on the back, a hand briefly on the shoulder or a light touch on the hand or arm are all likely to be acceptable. A slap on the thigh is not. Common sense really, and if you are unsure, perhaps there’s a reason and you are wise to leave it on that occasion.
It was another cool night of learning. Neon lights, brickwork, pipes, beer, hipsters, disruption. It’s a great concept to give us all a jolt. We don’t need to be comfortable. A life of comfort is full of mediocrity. No, let’s get on our edge. That’s exciting!
If you want to connect or chat, give me a prod. That’s another form of touch.