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Introducing Physical Contact: How to Get Comfortable with Touching People

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This video is an excerpt from my course Building Rapport: Going beyond small talk with advanced communication skills. If you like what you see in the video, you want to see the whole video, or you want to see the whole course, check out the link above.

In this video we’re going to talk about introducing physical contact, how to get comfortable with touching people. Now, depending on which culture you’re from, touch is either carefree and natural or it’s taboo and weird and shameful. And if you’re already comfortable with touching, and you come from such a culture, then you can skip this video. But if you find that touch is often sexualized, it’s difficult to do especially in a platonic friendly way, then this is a video for you.

You must understand how important touch is to the human species, for the type of mammal we are. Touching is necessary for creating deep, meaningful connections with other humans. People who don’t touch feel disconnected and lonely, and people who touch a lot feel connected. It’s as simple as that.

You’ll find that certain cultures have this sorted already, the Latin cultures in particular, Italians, French, Brazilians, Mexicans, and so on. And if you have access to people in these cultures, if you can befriend them and be involved in their social circles, that will go a long way to helping you observe what confident, natural touching looks like, and become part of it yourself.

In my experience, the Asian and Western Anglo cultures are the worst when it comes to touching, it’s very taboo. It’s very structured and rigid, it often has a sexual kind of taint to it, where everybody thinks it’s got something to do with sex. And it makes it very awkward for people to do it, especially men touching other men and so on. And so if you’re from one of those cultures, you probably have a lot of shame and hang ups about touching.

So in this video, rather than trying to get into the deep dive psychology of why you might struggle with touching, I just wanted to give you practical steps to build up to bringing more touch into your life and into your social circle, and I promise you that will undo the mental barriers you have. Once you get comfortable touching people, you’ll realize what you’re missing out on and what they were missing out on as well, especially when it comes to building rapport and connection.

Now my favorite role models, especially for male touching, are actually some characters on television programs. The first is Tony Soprano, from the Sopranos. The next is Russell Brand in all the movies he plays. And another as Jason Mamoa and a lot of the characters he’s plays (and how he is in real life). These are men who are clearly comfortable with touching, and they touch in a way that is clearly well received by other people. And you’d do well to observe how they touch when they touch, why they touch, to get a sense of what natural touching looks like.

As I said, I want this video to be practical. So I’m just going to give you some key points that will take you to a comfortable place with touching, some principles, then we’ll make sure that you’re never crossing a line or doing anything sort of weird or inappropriate, but at the same time you feel like you’re in control and shameless about your touching.

One is learn to start touching people when you’re making a particular point. You can touch the shoulder and the forearm, they’re usually pretty safe, or the knee, not really into the thigh, but the knee, these are all safe areas to touch in almost any culture. And you can just do this when you make a point. You can say and that was the time we did this. And that was the most important part to me. And just make these kind of little exclamation marks with touching while you’re talking. Only a few times in a conversation is enough to break that barrier and to bring touch into the communication style.

The less you know someone, the shorter the duration of the touch. So you should almost be sort of land and take off as I call it with someone you don’t know very well. So you touch and you take off before any kind of discomfort even has a chance to build, you almost leaving them wanting more. The better you know someone and the more intimate you are with them, the longer and more lingering the touch can be. So general rule of thumb here is just don’t linger longer than they want you to. Learn to let go just before they start to feel uncomfortable.

One of the biggest mistakes I see, usually people when they’re drunk and so on, they overdo touching, right, they lay their arm on you and won’t take it away, they hold your hand to the point where it gets sweaty, so on and so forth. What you want is almost like the person was just about to start worrying about the touch and then you end, and create that feeling of safety/

There’s no hard rule on how to follow this. But basically if you start touching short and sharp, and really not lingering, and build up from there over months and years as you practice this, you’ll kind of never have to worry about lingering touch. You’ll always be taking the touch away before they’ve had enough of it.

A handshake is a great way to initiate touch. You can do this at the start of any conversation or interaction, no matter how long you’ve known someone. You don’t need to do a fancy bro shake or anything like that. Just a normal hand works fine: grip firm but don’t compete for strength, or don’t try and turn into a contest of wills but also don’t do a limp, soft handshake out of fear that you might harm them. Grip them like your gripping a door handle in order to turn it, give it that much strength. Quick, hard shake, and let go again. Let them know you’re there. Let them know that you’re comfortable with making contact.

Hugs are the next level up from handshakes. And there’s really no reason why you can’t introduce them quite early. I personally hug people when I first meet them quite often. And they can sometimes be a little bit taken aback because they’re not used to that. But when you’re okay with it, generally other people will be too, especially like I said, if you don’t do it for too long. With hugs, what I like is short and strong. You really want to squeeze the person.

There’s something quite creepy about a light slapping hug, you know where the person just kind of drapes or pats you gently, there’s something kind of gross about that. Or it can just feel like they don’t really care. When you give them a good, strong masculine squeeze, let them know you’re there, there’s something quite comforting in that.

And let’s face it, we’re raised to enjoy hugs. Hugs are one of the greatest forms of communication between parents and children. We’ve got that ingrained in us. We love hugging for the most part. However, we don’t like hugs that go for too long with anybody. So if you keep them short and strong, the other person will never feel like oh, about how you hug them.

Now talking about squeezing, I’m talking about the upper body. So the upper body has a tight hold, but the lower body there should be some distance. Right? This is how we keep the sexuality out of a hug. If you’re with a partner or a lover, the lower bodies come together. When you’re with a friend or a family member or associate, make sure there’s always a gap from the belly button onwards down.

Respect any signs you see of discomfort and immediately withdraw your touch. But do it without apology. So if you can see that somebody doesn’t like being touched, they push back or their face / their body tenses up in some way, just let go and continue operating as if everything’s fine.

And just feel free to openly discuss how people feel about it. Like say you go to hug someone and they back off, you will say, Oh, not a hugger. That’s okay, I am but not until you’re ready. But you can talk about this stuff. Make it normal to bring up the resistance and difficulty people have with touching, it can even be an entire conversation on its own. You can be quite upfront about how you’re working on becoming comfortable with touching people and that they should let you know if you’ve crossed any boundaries, and that you think it’s very unnatural that people don’t touch each other and you want to break out of their mindset yourself and so on. And maybe people can have a discussion back and forth about their views on touching and their resistance and so on.

Everyone has different touch barriers. I’m not saying you’re going to be well received with all of these touches. However, I am careful in this video to ensure that all the touching I’m recommending is objectively non sexual, especially if you don’t linger or do a sort of like caressing touch, but just a strong, firm contact that doesn’t last. You’re really in good stead as long as it’s certain body parts, which I’ll talk about in a minute. But if somebody shows discomfort around touching, back off, give them their space and respect. Talk to them about it if they’re somebody you’re going to be seeing for more than a few seconds and maybe there’s something that could develop with conversation.

You can even learn to become so confident that you help people reset their barriers. There’s plenty of times where somebody might hold out a hand and meet me in handshake. And I’ll be like, no, I’m a hugger. And I’ll skip the hand and give them a hug. And you can see their brain kind of compute whether or not they’re okay with it. And sometimes the fact that I’m so okay with that allows them to be okay with it.

And I’m just confident in my understanding of human psychology that deep down, we really do want to touch each other. Even the people who feel like they don’t are coming from a place of trauma wounding, that they actually should, as mammals, feel a desire for touch, and the only reason they don’t is because somebody was neglectful or inappropriate with touching when they were younger. And I can actually help them reset that by showing that touch is okay. And by always doing it in a way that they never have to worry about it.

Pushing someone gently on the back to steer them or guide them in the direction you’re going. Lower back spine, upper back spine doesn’t really matter. Again, a firm short push rather than a kind of lingering trailing fingers – the kind of touch that you’d leave for a lover.

But again, just looking for these opportunities to constantly touch people, guide them, show them where to go. Rather than using sort of distant body language eg gesture with a hand, you can actually just push them in, take them by the arm. Again, short, firm gestures will help you break the touch barrier help you build up a confidence with it as well.

One of the more feminine styles of touching that I really like is what you might call the grooming style of touching. That word has kind of got disgusting connotations, but I’m thinking more like primates grooming each other. So tucking in the label that someone has sticking out, picking lint off their clothing, you know, brushing the hair off their shoulders. Business like, you’re just helping them look better, you’re helping them see things they can’t see and get their appearance looking sharp. The kind of thing a mother might do with a child, just from a loving place.

Thank you so much for watching. If you enjoyed what you saw in this video, and you’d like to master your social skills, get in touch dan@brojo.org And we can talk about coaching

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