High Touch Coaching

By one of those wonderful coincidences I was reading John Naisbitt’s High Tech High Touch when a colleague sent me news of research into touch, judgements and decisions. The combination of both writings sent me off on time travel and prompted me to think about coaching environments.
In his discussion of High-Touch Time, Naisbitt points out that “People spoke of moments as fleeting, memories as lasting … Stories began with “Once upon a time” and we actually had a sense of what that meant.” He argues that in the last century there has been a move to High-Tech Time that is characterised by “lack of time, quick time, real time, deadline, check list, multitask, behind, finding time, making time, losing time, killing time, spending time, wasting time, on time, out of time, time frame, fast-forward.”
Naisbitt’s observations took me back to Jay Griffith’s sideways account of time.

Time is not found in dead clocks and inert calendars, time is not money but is life itself: in ocean tides and the blood in the womb, in every self-respecting player, in the land, in every spirited protest for diversity and every refusal to let another enslave your time, in the effervescent gusto of carnival; life revelling in rebellion against the clock.

It took me back also to a blog post I wrote two years ago Faster Than A Turnip? In that post I mention Al Monty’s observation that:

Kairological time has a different sense of movement compared to chronological time. For a rough comparison, contrast an urban with a rural day. In cities, where time is most chronological, your progree¬†through the day is like an arrow, while the day of itself ‘stays still’, for time is not given by the day but is man-made, and defined by the working day or rush-hours. In a rural place, time moves towards you and is nature-given, defined by sun or stars or rainstorms. In this more kairological time, the future comes towards you and recedes behind you while may well stay still, standing in the present, the only place which is ever really anyone’s to stand in.

Touch, Judgement and Decisions
The prompt for this post was my colleague’s alert to a paper by Joshua Ackerman, Christopher Nocera and John Bargh published in Science. The paper’s title is Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions. The abstract of the paper is:

Touch is both the first sense to develop and a critical meansof information acquisition and environmental manipulation. Physicaltouch experiences may create an ontological scaffold for thedevelopment of intrapersonal and interpersonal conceptual andmetaphorical knowledge, as well as a springboard for the applicationof this knowledge. In six experiments, holding heavy or lightclipboards, solving rough or smooth puzzles, and touching hardor soft objects nonconsciously influenced impressions and decisionsformed about unrelated people and situations. Among other effects,heavy objects made job candidates appear more important, roughobjects made social interactions appear more difficult, andhard objects increased rigidity in negotiations. Basic tactilesensations are thus shown to influence higher social cognitiveprocessing in dimension-specific and metaphor-specific ways.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments to investigate how objects’ weight, texture, and hardness might¬† influence unconsciously judgments about unrelated events and situations:

  • To test the effects of weight, metaphorically associated with seriousness and importance, subjects used either light or heavy clipboards while evaluating resumes. They judged candidates whose resumes were seen on a heavy clipboard as better qualified and more serious about the position, and rated their own accuracy at the task as more important.
  • An experiment testing texture’s effects had participants arrange rough or smooth puzzle pieces before hearing a story about a social interaction. Those who worked with the rough puzzle were likelier to describe the interaction in the story as uncoordinated and harsh.
  • In a test of hardness, subjects handled either a soft blanket or a hard wooden block before being told an ambiguous story about a workplace interaction between a supervisor and an employee. Those who touched the block judged the employee as more rigid and strict.
  • A second hardness experiment showed that even passive touch can shape interactions, as subjects seated in hard or soft chairs engaged in mock haggling over the price of a new car. Subjects in hard chairs were less flexible, showing less movement between successive offers. They also judged their adversary in the negotiations as more stable and less emotional.

One of the paper’s authors, Christopher Nocera, provides some background information to the research paper. He indicates that:

  • “Touch remains perhaps the most underappreciated sense in behavioral research. Our work suggests that greetings involving touch, such as handshakes and cheek kisses, may in fact have critical influences on our social interactions, in an unconscious fashion.”
  • “First impressions are liable to be influenced by the tactile environment, and control over this environment may be especially important for negotiators, pollsters, job seekers, and others interested in interpersonal communication.”
  • “People often assume that exploration of new things occurs primarily through the eyes. While the informative power of vision is irrefutable, this is not the whole story. For example, the typical reaction to an unknown object is usually as follows: With an outstretched arm and an open hand, we ask, ‘Can I see that?’ This response suggests the investigation is not limited to vision, but rather the integrative sum of seeing, feeling, touching, and manipulating the unfamiliar object.”

High Touch Coaching and the Coaching of High Touch
My own thinking about coaching environments is moving more and more to rich sensory experience that lets go of chronological time. I wondered about the sentence in the abstract “Physicaltouch experiences may create an ontological scaffold for thedevelopment of intrapersonal and interpersonal conceptual andmetaphorical knowledge, as well as a springboard for the applicationof this knowledge.” I translated that as “we can modify the coaching environment to accelerate and transform learning.”
The paper prompted me to think about the environment we might create as coaches to support touch and feel. It encouraged me to think about the sequencing of training too. My concern is that with our preoccupation with volume, frequency and intensity in training we may lose the possibility to explore tactile and temporal stimuli. I wondered if in our creative approach to coaching we might use tactile tactics to provide the lift we associate and experience with taper.
The linking of touch, judgement and decision making offers coaches a great opportunity to reflect on the practice of practice. I think the combining of these with voice and suggestion enriches the guided discovery environments that coaches seek to create and develop.
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