DIANE PHILLIPS: Why we’ll take the human touch every time over any other form of communication


Diane Phillips


“Hi, Joe on time for the call here. Anybody there?” Guess I’m a minute early, Joe thinks silently, hoping no one else remembers and it will all be over before it starts.

Jeanie joining the call.

“Jeanie here. On the call. Anyone else on?”

“Hey, Jeanie. Joe here. On the call.”

“Hey, Joe, how’s it going? Oh, think someone else is joining.”

“George here, who else is on the call?”

“Hey, George, Jeanie here and Joe’s on.”

“How ya’ doin’?”

“Who, George? Jeanie or Joe? Hold on, think John just got on the call.”

If you have never had the pleasure of the carefully scheduled, equally dreaded conference call, that’s how it starts. And it does not get much better later on. The conference call is a modern process by which a few or a whole lot of people connect at one time even though they may be across the world or across the hall. Conference call etiquette demands that everybody plays nice in the sand box by telephone standards until they get to the crux of the matter, the reason for the call. Then it either goes smoothly, that is, everyone works out what they came to the call to work out, or the conflicts bare themselves. And here is the rub.

It is far more difficult to work things out when you can’t touch someone and look them in the eyes.

So while we applaud the many remarkable advances that allow Jeanie in the next office to talk to Joe in Japan with George from Georgia chiming in, there is something sadly lacking. It’s called the human touch and unlikely as it seems, particularly given the fact that I am in the communications business, there has never been anything to equal it. Nothing that even comes close to human touch.

When is the last time you tried to persuade someone to give for a voluntary cause that involved his or her time? Did you do it over the phone with a lot of small talk or did you sit with them or take them to the children’s home or the feeding centre or the church hall that needed their help? What do you think was the better outcome? A chat over the phone with TV and kids blaring in the background and attention diverted by a dozen things unrelated to sacrificing time or eyeball to eyeball and a light touch on the arm?

The human touch trumps all. Wanting to see how that could be verified I went to my favourite ‘Substantiate This’ source, Google, where I plugged in a few questions attempting to get Google sources to prove that human interaction was more effective than anything technology could produce.


I was counting on them to tell me there was a better way than them. I tried to soften the blow just in case Google had feelings. Like, if you were human as well as the information source of everything I would be ecstatic to meet you and look you in the eye and touch you.

It must have worked.

Google came back with all sorts of great information at no charge, which I still find amazing.

By the way, Google if you ever do send me a bill, we don’t have postal delivery here, so please just e-mail which, as you know is the easiest form of communication - except for whatsapp - the world has ever known.

So here are a few of the things Google churned out from various studies.

One, the obvious reason we like to look people in the eye is we can see the emotion that hearing their voice may not let us in on. It is far easier to conceal anger, resentment, distrust, bitterness or even condescending or patronizing attitudes over the phone than in person. You can see annoyance, impatience or disgust in someone’s eyes, you cannot always hear it in their voice. Aside from the obvious, about what you can or cannot see or hear, there is just that human connection that looking into another one’s eyes makes.

More surprising than the impact of eye-to-eye contact when asking for a favour is what touch does.

The human touch is far more than a warm salutation indicating “I’m glad to see you,” or “Thanks for coming by.” (Touch is as far different from a conference call as it gets. Imagine if Jeanie and Joe and John and George all gathered in a room with a fireplace and steaming hot chocolate or brandy Alexanders, how much more they would get done.) Anyway, getting together and reaching out to touch someone is seen as a sign of respect with the first one to touch having the higher status. Want a favour?


Don’t just look the individual in the eye. Touch his or her arm or hand lightly. The favour is more likely to be granted if you touch the requested while asking the favour. Maybe it is just to get you to remove your hand, but whatever the reason, touching increases your chances of success.

One of the more interesting facts linking touch and success is tipping. Waiters and waitresses who touch their guests ever so lightly are likely to get a larger tip, according to one source. My theory on this one is that it works better if the guest has been drinking heavily. While I am happy to be greeted by a restaurant owner or maitre’d, I do not particularly care for the gentleman who has just served me oysters to wipe his hand on my arm. Just a little quirk.

The one time touching does not work so well – man to man in some societies. Personally, again, I think real men are not afraid of a good hug from another man. A father/son pair I know in Nassau, both of whom are very accomplished, always hug when they see each other and they confess their love.

That is a very good thing.

It’s almost as good as seeing a grown man with a tear in his eye though he vowed he did not want to see that chick flick and for sure, it’s a whole heap better than a conference call.


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