To Hug, or Not to Hug: That is the Dilemma

When did hugging become so popular? People are still learning how to give a proper handshake – no limp fish – and all that. But now shaking hands is so passé.

Should I Hug?

When I visit with clients it isn’t always clear what I should do – and what the client prefers. hug-happy-smileIf it’s a woman client of many years’ standing, it’s almost automatic to share what’s called an “air kiss.” We simply brush cheeks; not exactly a kiss, but close.

It’s more problematic with a long-standing male client – an air kiss, a handshake or a hug? An older gentleman may prefer a formal handshake, while a Millennial may go for a big hug, or maybe a high five.

Michelle Obama joined the trend, along with other celebrities New York Magazine identified in The Power Huggers. The hit reality show The Voice features more hugging than you normally see at a wedding. The singers who win a competition get a big hug – not only from their coach but the other coaches, too. Even the losers get a big hug.

They’ve taken hugging to a new level.

The staid Wall Street Journal even weighed in with a recent article The Delicate Protocol of Hugging.

Seriously, Now

What should you do about hugging? It can be extremely awkward when you first meet someone and they give you a big bear hug, as if you were old friends. But that’s happening a lot more these days.

A friend told me about a member of an association to which they both belong who not only grabs her in a big hug, but won’t let go as he slobbers in her face while telling her what’s new in his life. She has to struggle to pull away from him while others in the vicinity make their escape.

There don’t seem to be any defined rules about hugging. Emily Post has only three entries on the topic, including this video explaining how hugging became the tradition at NFL draft day. Note that the player who started the trend asked permission first.

Hugging Guidelines

Hugging comes down to using your good judgment, because there aren’t hard-and-fast rules, like where you place the silverware at a table setting.

Consider these guidelines when you’re faced with the dilemma of to hug or not to hug:

  • Ask permission. The NFL recruit asked the NFL Commissioner in advance if it would be OK to give him a big bear hug. You could ask, “Can I give you a hug for your new promotion?” If you’re the huggee, and don’t want a hug, you could respond, “thanks, but I have a cold.” This is when instead of a high five or a handshake, I extend my elbow to avoid spreading germs. People usually appreciate my creative greeting.
  • Wait for cues. When you’re visiting a client, wait for the client to initiate the greeting. If she reaches for a handshake, then that’s your clue she doesn’t want a hug or an air kiss. It’s never a good idea to hug a potential client. That’s when a handshake is definitely called for.
  • Don’t hug a subordinate. This one should be obvious if you’re of opposite sexes. You don’t want to be accused of sexual harassment.
  • Signal your preference. When someone grabs your hand in preparation for giving you a big hug and you demur, hold his hand firmly and gently push back. He will get the message. Or, if you’re the client, make the first move. Reach out for a handshake or open your arms for a hug. Of course, that’s assuming the other person wants a hug. These are not easy decisions. Again, use your judgment.
  • Set up a barrier. Stand behind your desk when your visitor arrives and extend your hand in greeting. There won’t be space for a hug.
  • Make a joke. If someone approaches you with arms spread wide for a hug, back away and say with a smile, “Wait, you’re scaring me!” Then laugh and shake hands.

Leave it to a clever marketing agency in London to capitalize on the hugging rage. Eélan Media dreamed up Business Hug Day that’s taking place on November 28th. If you’re seriously into hugging, you can register to receive the agency’s hugging tips.

What are your thoughts on hugging? What has worked for you when deflecting a hug? Are you a hugger?


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