It is true that empirically attractive people enjoy certain advantages in life. They are considered more competent and make more money than their less attractive counterparts (12% - 14% more). It’s not fair, but it’s true. Attraction is a powerful tool of influence.
Here’s the good news. You don’t have to be a supermodel to successfully employ techniques of attraction in order to become more persuasive. One of the most effective influence tactics is a simple flirtation device: touch.
Not only is touching an important component of seduction and mating, it is also a potent tool of persuasion for non-sexual relationships. Touching builds attraction regardless of the nature of the relationship. In essence, when we touch someone, they become more attracted to us and more receptive to a request. That’s because being touched enhances our mood; therefore, we see the request in a more positive light. This mood enhancement and receptivity to influence has to do with our biology and body chemistry.
Being touched activates our brain's orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of compassion and reward. It can also trigger the release of oxytocin, known as the “bonding hormone.” Bonding with someone elicits the sentiment of cooperation, which is an essential precursor to persuasion.
Moreover, research shows that holding hands produces a calming sensation by activating a stress-reducing response in the hypothalamus region of the brain. This acts to lower cortisol levels, known as the fight or flight or “stress” hormone. Anxiety and depression have been linked to high levels of cortisol; so, reducing cortisol is beneficial to our overall wellbeing. Ok, enough with the biology and chemistry.
Unfortunately, we are depriving ourselves of touch. The negative side-effect of our heightened awareness of and sensitivity to sexual harassment in the workplace and school has virtually turned us into a touchless society. And that is regrettable, because humans need the benefits of touch now more than ever.
Anxiety and depression levels have increased over the last eighty years. Dr. Jean Twenge believes it has something to do with our increasingly lack of connection. She said, “modern life doesn’t give us as many opportunities to spend time with people and connect with them, at least in person, compared to, say, 80 years ago or 100 years ago.” We might be “connected” to a thousand people on social media sites, but those connections are superficial compared to connecting in person. And connecting online obviously doesn’t involve the connection booster: touch.
Touch is a vital aspect of connection and disconnection can manifest in destructive ways. Dr. Sharon Farber says, “When people lack love and touch in their lives this can result in bodily self-harm, such as in eating disorders or self-mutilation.” As a result, we try to obtain touch from unlikely sources. As Dr. Farber points out: “…increasingly, many people are seeking out their own professional touchers and body arts teachers—chiropractors, physical therapists, Gestalt therapists, Rolfers, the Alexander-technique and Feldenkrais people, massage therapists, martial arts and T’ai Chi Ch’uan instructors. And some even wait in physicians’ offices for a physical examination for ailments with no organic cause—they wait to be touched.”
Because we aren’t receiving enough human touch, we have become more sensitive to it. Therefore, it has become an even more powerful tool of influence. I call it the Midas Touch.
The Midas Touch
For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on persuasion techniques for non-romantic relationships. Here are the appropriate and effective areas to touch someone in a professional or social setting. This list goes from the least connected relationship to a more connected or familiar relationship.
Handshake—This is the least “offensive” act of touching. The good news is it is expected behavior when greeting someone. Take every opportunity to shake hands with people.
Elbow, upper arm, shoulder—Touching someone in these areas is also rather innocuous. Yet, it will get the other person’s attention and prime them for persuasion.
Upper back, hand—Touching someone on the upper back or hand is taking it up a notch. One should only touch someone in these places if you have a familiar and comfortable relationship.
Hand holding, hugging—These areas are clearly reserved for closer relationships. I would also add cheek kissing to this list.
Bonus: asking to hold a possession of the other person is a form of touching!
Double bonus: For team-building workshops, I typically use exercises that force participants to touch each other in these non-threatening areas. The more animosity team members have for one another, the more of these exercises I’ll have them do. It works to lower their defenses and become more receptive to ideas.
While the act of touching can be used as an effective persuasion technique, it is also a drug-free, magical elixir for treating our societal touch deprivation. There is a reason why we use the term being “in touch” with someone when referring to being connected or in communication with them.
Touch is a vital aspect of connection. Use it often, but stick to the areas of the body listed above in professional or social settings. And for the love of humanity, reach out and touch someone… and then ask them for a favor.
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