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Is it OK to touch co-workers?

Touch is a common aspect of human interaction. It can be problematic in the workplace however, as some people may find it inappropriate or intimidating in certain contexts. Psychology Today explains more about touch in the workplace and what all employees must know.

Many people reserve intimacy for people they are close with, and this does not always include co-workers. As a result, even a harmless touch of the shoulder or pat on the back can easily be misinterpreted. This is especially true in diverse workplaces where cultural differences abound. What might seem normal and harmless in one context can change drastically depending on a person’s background.

That’s why it’s recommended to keep these differences in mind when it comes to the comfort of your fellow employees. Watch a person’s expression when initiating touch. If they appear to become tense or dismayed, it’s best to take a hands-off approach. If this is the case, use a warm gesture or friendly word instead to convey affection and appreciation.

Also, be sure to keep power differentials in mind. If you’re in a position of authority, realize that you may be intimidating to workers and be sure your body language is not conveying this message. This is especially true when shaking hands. A firm grip may have a positive impact, but if your grip is too tight you could be sending the wrong message.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to apologize if someone takes offense. Even if you have good intentions you must still respect the other person’s interpretation of what transpired. The impact is what matters in this case, and if you co-worker feels slighted or put upon by your touch it’s best to acknowledge that respectfully and offer a sincere apology. You can also use the incident to inform your actions going forward. 

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