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Do you ever get asked to give massage when you’re at a party or other event? I suppose I’m a reasonably social person because I do, inevitably, find myself at some kind of a function or evening reception at least once a week, sometimes two to three times a week.

It is not unusual for there to be somebody in the group there at the event who eventually discovers that massage is my chosen field. As the conversation goes further, the person I’m speaking to, be it a man or a woman (more often a man), starts grabbing at their shoulders or pointing to their neck or back, letting me know how much that body area would love a massage—not sometime, but right now. Not theoretically, but immediately.

What to do about it? My first reaction may be something close to resentment. I find myself wondering, “Doesn’t this person understand that I’m here for the event and not necessarily looking to work at a party where I’m a guest like everyone else?” After all, you don’t ask a doctor to go perform a surgery at a social event, or a hair stylist to start giving haircuts for free wherever they go. And yet, that is exactly what people are doing when they start hinting that they could use a little shoulder rub right there on the spot.

However, instead of my automatic response of being offended, I’ve learned to develop a new reaction, one that turns this kind of situation from offense to opportunity. I smile and chuckle lightly to make the person feel okay about it, and then I palpate the area and I say, “Wow, it does seem like you have some serious tension there!” or something like, “oh my gosh! What a big knot you have there in your shoulder!” By working with this person instead of fighting against their impulse, not only do I leave them feeling heard and accepted instead of rejected, but I create the space to turn this into an opportunity for us both.

After asking when they last had a massage, I affirm their sense that some bodywork is needed, saying something like, “Well, you know, it does seem like you could really use some massage. I’d love to work with you.” If we don’t happen to live or work near each other, I suggest a clinic in their area. In the end, by showing compassion and steering this person to actually receive good bodywork, I get a lot further than by being offended and righteous. So, the next time someone’s being tactless and not respecting your massage profession, just remember it’s your call: was offense or opportunity.

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