Touch me, feel me...the new language of the office

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The Independent Online
After years of "hands off" political correctness in the workplace it is suddenly permissible - indeed desirable - to touch colleagues at work.

The Institute of Personnel Development will be told in its annual conference in Harrogate today that a bit of human contact is the way to clinch a business deal or impress the boss.

Allan Pease, of Pease Training Corporation, an expert in body language, says in a paper for the conference that it is perfectly all right to brush your hand against another person's elbow. But he warns that anything more than three seconds may be considered excessive and could be misinterpreted. Also hands should wander no further than the point of the elbow which is a neutral area.

The crucial tactile experience of the handshake is also scrutinised. In England it is usual when greeting someone to pump the hand three times. In Germany only twice and in the USA five times. "Always give the same amount of pressure as you receive. For women, who usually have much smaller hands than men, I suggest that they spread their fingers apart when shaking hands with men. This avoids their hand being 'swallowed up' in a male grip and the feeling of being dominated."

Mr Pease suggests that in a formal interview, sales meeting or even a social gathering, one has less than four minutes to make an impression.What one says accounts for only 7 to 10 per cent of the impression one makes. How one says it accounts for 20 to 30 per cent.

There are three basic rules for people like the British who are less tactile than some other nations. One should nod one's head as one talks. Studies have shown that this will gain two to four times more co-operation, according to Mr Pease.

The level of one's eyes should be kept below that of the other person. This will avoid an over-aggressive posture.

As for elbow touching, subtlety should be the watch word so that touching is barely noticed by the other person.

However, more snobbish students of English etiquette might be moved to look down their noses at the advice from Mr Pease. He is an Australian.