Physical Contact at Work: A Powerful Tool for More Effective Communication


Physical contact at work is a communication tool few people take advantage of. It can help you bond and connect with people way beyond the “dispensing data” form of communication.

After all, who doesn’t appreciate the positive recognition of a “pat on the back,” literally or figuratively?

And, yes, you can touch strangers as well as colleagues at a business event if you do it with the right attitude and technique.

One CEO told me, “Every time I meet someone new I give the person a bear hug. They relax and enjoy it or go catatonic, but they never forget it.” He went on to explain, “It lets them know right away that I’m an energetic partner in the conversation, I want to get to the heart of the matter right away, and I don’t want to waste time with useless formalities.”

But what should physical touch at work look like? Here are some tips on effective use of touch in a business context:

Guidelines for Physical Touch at Work

The Basics

Reach out and touch the person you’re talking to on an acceptable part of the body: hand, forearm, elbow, shoulder, high back (nothing below the waist). Maintain physical contact for a split second as you speak directly to the person.

Be Purposeful

Place your hand and remove it in an equally purposeful and definite manner. Don’t be skittish; you look nervous and lacking confidence.

Expect Acceptance

Relax, smile, and look as if you expect the other person to accept the touch with the intent that you gave it: supportive, encouraging, caring, and respectful.

Avoid the Intimate

Do not use touch with any intimate overtones. (This leaves out twerking.)

Be Considerate of the Other Person

Be sensitive to the person’s reactions. Ask about the exchange if you sense discomfort, and immediately remedy any misunderstanding so they clearly understand your respectful intent.

Choose Wisely

Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their reaction so you choose the right approach to begin with.

Be Consistent

Be consistent. Use touch with men and women, young and old, the likeable and the not-so-likeable. You cannot just do it with the ones you know and like; that’s what gets you in trouble.

Just Try It

Above all, try it. You’ll never experience the positive impact unless you try it. Even if you’re skeptical about this, you may be amazed by the outcome.

Physical Touch Is Worth The Risk

If you refrain from reaching out and touching someone (appropriately) you’ll lose a valuable opportunity to connect and bond. Yes, I know that “touchy” and corporate policies instruct you not to do it. Fact is, the most powerful leaders do it; they just do it well. And that’s what I want you to do: Do it well so as to be memorable, genuine, trusted, and appreciated.

Ready to be a more effective leader?