Oxytocin of a Handshake: The Power of Human Connection

by Patrycja Sobera
Date Published June 3, 2024 - Last Updated June 3, 2024

For over three years, from 2020 to 2023, nearly everyone in the IT industry worked in their own silos. Zoom and MS Team meetings replaced meeting rooms, friend circles shrunk to being on WhatsApp and other social media. As a side effect, people got used to not meeting their colleagues. They stopped making new real life social connections. 

Sounds familiar, right? Subsequently, the workplace landscape had to completely evolve. 

With the push of hybrid working models, which disrupted the norm of working from home. While many welcomed it, others were unhappy with this change. But what they do not realize is that the return to the office holds a promise far beyond strictly business-related objectives and benefits. I think we sometimes forget the sheer power of physical presence. 

As we emerge from the grip of the pandemic, as we evolve the definition of ‘hybrid’, it is the time to rekindle the essence of human interaction, rediscover the oxytocin of a handshake, and reforge the bonds that fuel collaboration and human trust.

So, what is oxytocin? It’s a hormone that promotes positive feelings and is often referred to as the "love hormone" or "bonding hormone" . When two people shake hands, their bodies produce oxytocin, which helps establish trust and build a deeper connection. Yes, a simple handshake can promote an unparallel human connection

Remember the days of gathering on the support floor, exchanging ideas over coffee, or simply sharing a laugh in the cafeteria? These seemingly ordinary moments held extraordinary significance, fostering a sense of camaraderie and trust essential in the realm of IT support and service. Who engages support teams to chat about that great new ‘time management’ tool or to congratulate the team on a consistent SLA attainment? Noone. 

The world of IT service and support can be demanding, stressful, forever changing, often requiring that re-assuring ‘pat on the back’ from a peer or a leader, often requiring a friendly face, a good advice, a template or maybe a good technical resolution shortcut

And while the shift to hybrid working altered our routines, the essence of these connections is still indispensable. We are much more likely to open up and ask for support of those we met in person, those we had an opportunity to develop and have a deeper connection with

The first official handshake of my post pandemic visit to the office, made me nostalgic of the pre pandemic times. I missed the ‘hustle and bustle’ of a busy support floor, I missed the times when we exchanged handshakes or even friendly hugs. Sadly, handshakes were one of the first habits to go when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

However, scientifically speaking, a handshake or hug is not just a customary gesture; it is a pathway to trust. 

Research* has shown that these gestures trigger the release of oxytocin, aptly dubbed the "bonding hormone." This chemical cascade fosters feelings of connection and trust, laying the groundwork for fruitful collaborations and cohesive teams.

But the benefits extend far beyond mere biology. Returning to the office offers a unique opportunity to re-ignite personal connections, to re-kindle the spark of creativity that thrives in face-to-face interactions. It is so much more than just meetings and memos; it is about sharing experiences, making memories, having spontaneous brainstorming sessions, and the serendipity of collaboration.

These face-to-face interactions have proven to enhance team cohesion and trust, as in-person communication allows for non-verbal cues and better understanding of each other. Physical presence helps leaders establish credibility and influence, and direct interaction promotes real-time problem-solving and decision-making. Face-to-face interactions can not only complement but in some cases, be more beneficial to digital communications alone, because they convey richer, more nuanced personal and social information. They facilitate much higher levels of intimacy and trust among participants, and this includes colleagues as well as clients.

Real conversations have been proven to release oxytocin, which promotes feelings of attachment and most importantly trust. So how can we to improve face-to-face interactions considering their sparsity nowadays?

  • Be present and attentive: Make sure to give the other person your full attention, and actively listen to what they have to say. This means putting away any distractions, such as mobile phones or laptops, and maintaining that super important eye contact.
  •  Use non-verbal cues: Non-verbal cues such as body language, eye contact, facial expressions and tone of voice, can convey a lot of information. Make sure you pay attention to them and use them effectively to communicate your message and emotions.
  •  Be respectful: Treat the other person with respect and be mindful of their feelings and opinions. Avoid interrupting or talking over them, and try to understand their perspective, consider ‘wearing their shoes’ and see whether this changes your initial views.
  •  Be open and honest: Share your thoughts and feelings openly and honestly and encourage the other person to do the same. This can certainly help build trust and mutual understanding. This can also encourage teams to learn and evolve together.
  •  Be empathetic: Try to put yourself in the other person's situation and understand their emotions and experiences. This can help you connect with them on a different level and develop trust.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously: Humor can be a great way to break the ice and build rapport. Just make sure to keep it appropriate, in line with business and professional etiquette. Always be respectful.
  • Keep your promises and follow up: Always make sure to follow up with the other person and continue building the relationship. It’s so important to keep and respect the commitment we have made; at the end of the day, we only have one chance to make ‘first impressions’ count. Following up, delivering on commitments made will help strengthen the connection and improve future interactions.

I personally, cannot overstate the value of in-person interaction. In a world that values virtual communication. While technology has bridged the gap, it is the human touch that truly builds rapport and understanding. From deciphering subtle cues to sharing a genuine laugh, these moments forge bonds that transcend the confines of any screen interaction or a MS Teams call.

Moreover, the office serves as a hub for culture and community, a place where traditions are born, and indeed, new memories are made. Whether it is celebrating milestones, sharing meals, or simply swapping stories, these rituals strengthen the fabric of organizational identity, fostering a sense of belonging that transcends physical boundaries. 

Let us not overlook the power of human connection. Let us embrace the office not just as a place of work, but as a sanctuary of camaraderie and collaboration. By rekindling the oxytocin of handshakes and fostering deeper connections, we pave the way for a brighter, more cohesive future—one built on trust, understanding, and shared experiences.

*Research reference: Oxytocin: The love hormone - Harvard Health Publishing, June 2023

Tag(s): service management, best practice, infrastructure management, ITSM, supportworld, performance management


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