Introducing Touch

Whenever I am in an unfamiliar room, full of people I don’t know, my shy parts come out. I feel isolated, vulnerable and fearful and immediately begin looking for the nearest exit.

However, I also know that the best thing to do is to force myself to go up to someone in the room and introduce myself. Once I have made a connection with another person, my shy parts start to relax and my more social parts start to take charge.

For many people about to get the first massage of their life from a stranger, often in a strange environment, the situation is many times more scarier. These are the people we often encounter when doing chair massage.

That’s why it is crucial that the massage practitioner takes the initiative to quickly make new customers feel welcome. I walk toward the customer with my hand extended, greet the customer by name and introduce myself while shaking their hand. Then I lead them to my massage chair.

The handshake is important because it is the first step in our physical touch relationship and, for most people, a handshake represents safe touch. Stepping forward first is a way to let them know that you resonate with their vulnerability and are willing to step into their space, before they step into yours.

There is generally a lot of verbal interaction that goes on in the first 60 seconds of that relationship. Most importantly I want to know about the customer’s previous experience with professional touch. “Have you ever had a massage before?”, “Have you ever had a chair massage?”, “Have you ever had an acupressure massage?” are all questions that will give valuable information as to their comfort level with touch.

Secondarily, with new customers I want to always ask for and receive permission to touch specific parts of their bodies. “I am going to work on your shoulders, arms, upper back, lower back, neck and scalp.”

As I mention each body part I touch the same area on myself. I find that helps slow me down and not make the introduction sound so much like a rote recitation while, at the same time, giving customers two sensory pathways through which to absorb what I am telling them. Remember, these folks are often nervous and overwhelmed. My job is to help them gain a sense of control. I do this by clearly outlining the structure and content of our relationship.

After I have described where I am going to be touching, I ask them if there is anyplace in their upper body where I need to be cautious, where they have aches, pains, strains, cuts bruises, rashes, injuries, surgeries or the like.

This is their cue to inform me of any musculoskeletal issues that I need to know about, but also the point at which they can ask me not to touch certain areas of their body, if they choose. The most common area that people mention not wanting touched is their hair or scalp.

After I have asked for and received permission to touch specific parts of their body, next I need to know how to touch those parts. Since I do traditional Japanese massage on a sequence of acupressure points, for me that mostly means making certain that my touch pressure be appropriate.

I always verbally give customers permission to give me feedback about my pressure. “If at any time during the massage anything feels uncomfortable, you will let me know, all right?” After getting their assent, I also tell them, “You are going to be in charge of the amount of pressure that I use. When I start working on the acupressure points, I am going to ask you for feedback about the pressure.”

This is an important piece. It is not enough to give people explicit permission to give you feedback; you must also make them practice giving you feedback so they will know you are serious about having them control their experience.

When I start working on the first line of acupressure points, I ask something like, “How’s the pressure? Would you like more, less or should I keep it about the same?” It is important to frame it as a question so that your customers are forced to commit to a response and take responsibility for their bodies.

Many people are so out of touch with their bodies that they have no frame of reference from which to respond. Or, since they perceive you as the “expert,” customers sometimes believe that you have some magic ability to know what the perfect pressure will be for their body.

Thus, I may add any of the following explanations to the mix for further clarification:

“The pressure doesn’t have to hurt to be effective.”

“We are looking for enough pressure so that your body want to go, “Ahhh…” but not so much pressure that it wants to go, “Ow!!”

“Any amount of pressure will activate circulation in the area.”

“It is not a no pain, no gain situation.”

“This massage is not supposed to hurt. It is supposed to make you feel better, not worse.”

And, as my friend Ken Bridgman notes: “Unlike Bill Clinton, I can’t feel your pain, so you are going to have to tell me if it hurts.”

Here are a couple of other notes about solidifying the touch relationship during a massage.

  • For new customers, depending on the length of the chair massage, I will ask for feedback about pressure 2 to 5 times during a massage.
  • Anytime I get feedback from a customer I always thank the person for letting me know.
  • If I get the pressure wrong on one side of the body, I always ask for feedback when I get to the same section on the other side of the body.

If you have any other suggestions about how to make people comfortable receiving touch from a stranger during a chair massage, leave a comment below.

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3 Responses to Introducing Touch

  1. Derek M says:

    Great post.
    Due to the nature of chair massage (seeing multiple customers in a row) it’s easy to rush & forget about these small, but very impressionable, bits of dialogue.

    I like the language of “ahh” & “ow” versus a pain scale of 1-10…puts in more in their language.

    Another question I add from time to time (especially with someone who has had massage before) is “what do you feel that painful area needs?” (ie stretched, worked on “real deep”, “flushing out”) Let them use their own words to describe what they think it needs. They might have previous experience with what has worked with them in the past or you can use it probe a little further.

    • David says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Derek.
      I think the question you suggest is good framing if you are doing massage therapy on chair customers.
      Since I only do systemic massage and not massage therapy, asking where they need work or what type of work an area needs is not appropriate for me.
      I will address the difference between the two in greater depth in another blog post.

  2. Hi David, very interesting post, I would also like to know the difference between systemic and therapeutic massage praticado in the massage chair.
    The feedback between client and therapist is very important, the customer perceives how much faster we interess him as a person, and your comfort is our main interest.
    I await more information on this post thank you very much ”

    Daniel Villarruel

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