How to touch someone without touching them.


The benefits of touch justify learning how to touch humans without touching them. Let me tell you how. I’m not crazy, I promise.

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A photo from Amsterdam’s Daybreaker, 2019. It begs the question: What’s a good replacement for human limbo?

March 6, 2020, I returned to Canada from the ‘human contact’ festival, having led a workshop on accessing joy through human connection and multiple 200-person bear hugs on the beach. This is Envision Festival, and here is how people at the festival like to connect: holding hands, colliding bodies, and cheering loudly. Pure expression.

There’s definitely something magical about the synchrony of it all. When you bring hundreds of bodies into proximity, and when they exchange emotions through touch, movement, and vocalization, it’s really easy to feel connected, accepted, a part of something… and high.

I have made this observation in 12 different countries. Human touch and proximity were so fundamental to my art form: facilitating massive, ritualistic celebrations. So, did I cry and panic when COVID hit?

No.

I chose to be optimistic; prosocially intelligent people are resilient in finding ways to create joy and belonging in their interactions. So, I started leading massive virtual parties, for companies like Chevron, and for thrill-seekers across the world. Every week, I would sit down and invent a bunch of virtual games and exercises to elicit the same DOSE (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins, Thank you Radha Agrawal), which is much easier to generate body-to-body. But then, something horrible happened.

I got sick of virtual connection. I started to long for the high generated by the physical presence of others. Good thing I lived in Vancouver.

The cases were so low in Vancouver at the time (May). So, I safely assembled a crew and held bike raves, every week. I drafted safety protocols, designated a Chief Safety Officer, and designed human connection activities. It was fun, and I got interviewed in the news to share tips on how to party safely.

After 15 events, I had learnt some alternatives to touch and proximity. My style of facilitation had transformed. I am no longer orchestrating crowd-surfing, bear hugs, and ‘mega drops’ (my favourite celebratory activity). But I believe I have found techniques that mimic the exhilaration.

I want to share with you the results of my experimentation.

This is a party scientist’s guide to replacing the high of physical contact. Without the virtual ****. Below are five different techniques that you can use in your in-person interactions with others to revitalize them.

Let’s dive in.

Use your eyes.

When we engage in eye contact, we transfer emotions. I call it emotional presence; I look at someone intently in the eyes and notice their emotions. Eventually, you cannot help but start to feel their emotions. Oxytocin is released and you start to feel closer. www.human.online provides a platform for engaging in eye contact through zoom.

In your interactions, look people in their eyes and hold it. Absorb their emotions and get high off oxytocin!

Use your body.

Using your body encompasses positioning, facial expression, and posture. Position yourself so you are facing the person. Express emotions through your facial expression. Open your posture toward the person by having your palms face toward them. Two things happen when you practice these techniques. The likelihood that you will feel what the other person is feeling increases, and your ability to express emotions that will transfer to the other human increases.

Who likes being in at a party where everyone has a neutral facial expression? I don’t. In my interactions, I exaggerate my facial expression organically because I have sensitized myself to the emotions of others. When I do this, it creates permission for others to express themselves more.

In summary, create an ‘into it’ vibe with your body language.

Now, practice emotional reflection.

Eye contact and body language are two prerequisites for emotional reflection. This is one of my treasured methods for amplifying expression in my social interactions. Here’s the principle: Whenever someone expresses an emotion, that emotion can be amplified if you feel it and reflect it back at them. Using eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions, you can create more joy in almost any interaction.

Sadness can be amplified too. But, I prefer to amplify joy and deflect negativity. When you practice emotional reflection for uncomfortable emotions, you reduce your ability to actually support the person in front of you. Empathy is sometimes overrated.

Leverage synchrony.

There are piles of research articles on the links between synchrony, in the form of laughter, singing, and movement, and neurochemical changes in the brain. When someone laughs, sings, or moves, I automatically start to mirror them. It makes me feel closer to them, and it amplifies the expression.

Don’t feel the desire to laugh, sing, or move? Try paying more attention to the expression happening in the human before your eyes. Feeling others’ emotions is one way to practice authentic emotional reflection. There’s also the ‘fake it till you make it method.’ Even if I don’t feel like moving, laughing, or singing, I do it anyway. And it changes my state as a result.

This behaviour relates to my philosophy. Here’s one principle I remind myself: Stop being ruled by your state and take conscious action to control it.

Help others.

The helper’s high. Have you heard of it? It turns out that when we consciously choose to help others, it can make us feel good: dopamine and oxytocin are released in the brain. This DOES NOT happen when we are guilted into helping another person. Helping others when you have not choosen to do it results in resentment.

My suggestions for simple ways to exercise kindness is by practicing an attitude of gratitude (saying thank you 20 times per day), spending money on others, sharing relevant information with others, and connecting people to others in your network. These actions fill my life with meaning, I find.

Share non-attributive gratitude.

I mentioned that I try to say thank you 20 times per day. It’s a form of acknowledgement. This technique goes a step further. Non-attributive gratitude expressions are characterized by the acknowledgement of the specific actions that someone took, the description of the impact they had on you, and the linking of those actions to the person’s values.

Here is an example: “Rod, your presentation was very thought-provoking and clear. I loved your analogies. It helped me stay engaged and understand the value of OKRs. I have a lot of confidence in your communication skills. It says a lot about your attention to detail and your ability to articulate complex ideas.”

Being specific and personal is the name of the game. After every experience I lead in Vancouver, we practice this technique by participating in an appreciation circle. One by one, people go into the center and appreciate one another. I also like doing this at the dinner table.

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I am always building my repertoire, so if you have any tips or tricks to add, I would love to hear them.

What is your favourite replacement for physical contact?

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