The following guidelines may help you more effectively encode nonverbal signals using touch:

  • Remember that culture, status, gender, age, and setting influence how we send and interpret touch messages.
  • In professional and social settings, it is generally OK to touch others on the arm or shoulder. Although we touch others on the arm or shoulder with our hand, it is often too intimate to touch your hand to another person’s hand in a professional or social/casual setting.

These are types of touch to avoid: Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 49.

  • Avoid touching strangers unless being introduced or offering assistance.
  • Avoid hurtful touches and apologize if they occur, even if accidentally.
  • Avoid startling/surprising another person with your touch.
  • Avoid interrupting touches such as hugging someone while they are talking to someone else.
  • Avoid moving people out of the way with only touch—pair your touch with a verbal message like “excuse me.”
  • Avoid overly aggressive touch, especially when disguised as playful touch (e.g., horseplay taken too far).
  • Avoid combining touch with negative criticism; a hand on the shoulder during a critical statement can increase a person’s defensiveness and seem condescending or aggressive.

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