When I teach handshakes in my client trainings or presentations I’m often asked about hugging. Because the West Coast tends to be more informal, there is a lot of hugging going on, especially between women. But, there are a good many people who don’t like to be hugged.
Twice now I have hugged clients who I don’t know that well. I did it partly because through all of our correspondence and phone conversations I felt like they were old friends. I also felt like a handshake was too formal, yet not doing anything when greeting them felt awkward. I should add that both of the clients were women. At the risk of sounding sexist, had they been men I would have shaken their hands.
I’m not the only one who has struggled with the hug dilemma in the professional world. As I thought about it more I realized it has to do with greeting other women. When I discuss handshakes in trainings, I often mention that many women were not taught how to or encouraged to shake hands. Whereas men are usually schooled in handshakes when they are young and it is an expected part of greeting and saying goodbye to others. Because of this, I think we women tend not to be as quick to shake hands in all situations.
Women also tend to show affection more easily, so a hug seems more natural. But, as I said, some people, including women, really do not like being hugged, or feel uncomfortable being hugged in a professional setting or when they don’t know someone very well.
So, what’s a hugger to do? Well, my social gaffes aside, you will never go wrong with a handshake. It is professional and usually welcome. A hug on the other hand, should be saved for someone you know pretty well or who you know is comfortable with hugging, especially if you are a man. In fact, I highly advise men to stay away from hugging in the business world unless someone else initiates the hug. Whether you’re a man or woman, if you would like to hug ask first.
And, if you are a non-hugger who wants to communicate no hugging, as you are meeting someone or they are approaching you, get your hand out right away so it’s clear you prefer to shake hands. If the hugger doesn’t get the message and goes in for the hug, just go with it and be happy you are loved.
How do you feel about hugging in the workplace? If you are a woman, do you tend to hug women more than men? Does a handshake ever feel too impersonal with some people?
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