Are you fluent in the language of touch? A recent article by Rick Chillot for Psychology Today explores the phenomena of a “touch chasm” – the idea that we can communicate and receive messages solely through touch but often refrain from doing so due to cultural restrictions. Ours is a somewhat touch-phobic society, constantly reminding us of the risks of misinterpretation. This means that many people are unaware of how helpful – even vital – learning how to communicate through touch can be.
Step 1: Learning to Communicate
What messages do you send out into the world through your tactile contact? Consider how you would comfort someone who is grieving, or welcome a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Communicating effectively through touch begins with getting comfortable with your particular twist on expressions, as well as their impact on others. Ask yourself how you would react if another person were to mirror your tactile responses and communications – if you would find them comforting or off-putting, chances are others will too.
Step 2: Learning to Receive
Much like verbal communication, listening is an important part of connection. Opening your physical “ears” to listen for cues signals that you are ready to receive messages through touch. If a loved one hugs you a few beats longer than usual, this may reflect their need for a longer embrace to steady a broken heart or troubled mind. If a new acquaintance seems to shrink away from your handshake, you may be making them uncomfortable – be sure to back away and give them plenty of room and exit points, even if you continue the conversation. If you’d like a clear period of touch-listening opportunity, massage therapists are an excellent way to build tactile listening skills – they are present to make you feel better and relax you, offering the perfect opportunity for quiet interpersonal study.
Step 3: Be Willing to Adjust
Even the most skilled of touch communicators won’t get it right every time. There will likely come a time when a pat on the shoulder or an impromptu reassuring hug is taken the wrong way, but handling the situation with grace is always important. When in doubt, never be afraid to ask if it’s alright if you hug or touch someone, and be sure to be prepared for a “no.” One of the most challenging aspects of communicating in a touch-phobic society is building a common language, and that is currently – and will continue to be – responsible for muddying the proverbial waters. With compassion and a willingness to learn, however, touch can become one of our most eloquent methods of communication.
Learn how to hug with conviction, to comfort with the whole heart, and to set boundaries with your gut. The result will be a fingertip lexicon that’s ready to share with the world and emphasize your verbal communication.