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Workplace Insights – To Hug or Not to Hug?

January 29, 2015

Hugging in the workplace?  This is an issue I dealt with when I worked in large corporations. All it takes is one, often innocent, hugger who can make an employee uncomfortable.

Many employees find hugging objectionable, because they simply don’t want to be touched in a highly personal way (other than just a handshake). Most business cultures don’t deal with it in policies (even anti-harassment pronouncements) because it is not easy to define the borders of hugging.

Here’s what I look at:

  1. The culture. In European cultures, hugging is more socially acceptable.
  2. The circumstances.  If a colleague congratulates you on a “a professional win,” wants to show his/her warm feelings on a personal milestone or is simply consoling you for a personal loss, it is awkward not to accept the hug.
  3. The religious issue. There are employees who, for religious reasons, do not wish to be touched in this personal manner.
  4. The generational divide. “Millennials,” surprisingly enough, are more touchy-feely than, more formal baby boomers.

Advice to the hug-resistant:

  1. Understand that you are not alone (there are others out there who are also not hug-friendly).
  2. Be careful how your resistance is perceived – that can be the real problem.
  • You can demonstrate your resistance by smiling and offering a handshake and stating, “I’m just not a hugger, but I appreciate your sentiment.”
  • Try other ways to telegraph back your feelings.  “I really appreciated your  hug offer. While I am not a hugger, it was kind of you to want to express your joy/consolation this way.”  Make a pun out of it to break the awkward  moment – “I was touched by your kindness.”

Advice to the huggers:

  1. Assess if your business culture would appreciate a hug. The more formal the environment, the less hug-friendly it will be.
  2. While the thought may be genuine, a smile and a strong handshake might be preferable.
  3. Announce the hug – “Hey, can I give you a hug…”
  4. Be careful whom you hug – it is often best to avoid your supervisor or subordinate.
  5. The handshake and one arm around the shoulder hug is easier to tolerate.
  6. Don’t linger – the hug should last just a second or two.
  7. Make sure the hug is not done in a dark room or in a private setting where it can be misinterpreted.
  8. Like other actions that are considered an invasion of people’s private space, when in doubt, don’t hug.

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