Business usually begins and ends with a handshake. It is commonplace across many cultures. It welcomes and bids farewell. It's a firm web-to-web connection with two to three pumps. It confers kindness and goodwill and for business, that's a good thing.
Not all people like physical contact. A handshake provides an appropriate way to reach out and connect without encroaching on another's personal space. So what do you do when you run into a hugger?
To hug or not to hug, that is the question. Are you a hugger? Have you ever been on the giving or receiving side of a hug that made the situation very uncomfortable? In the French culture, kisses on both sides of the cheeks are meant for close friends. In American culture, some areas, particularly Southern states, a quick hug is often given. Similar to the European double cheek kiss, these hugs are usually reserved for close friends or longtime associates, but can happen without permission or request.
Situation: What if at the close of a business meeting and preparing to leave suddenly, your former colleague reaches out to give you a quick hug? Well, that has happened to me. Yes, someone who I had worked with over the years, reached out to give me a hug. After the embrace, I looked at my client and then gave him a hug. Also there were two other colleagues, neither of whom I knew very well. I was trapped... what do I do? Do I offer a handshake and make them feel like I don't want to hug them? Or, do I go ahead extend a hug so I don't risk hurting someone's feelings.
Solution: Hugging is a very personal choice and varies from person to person. Our individual family background, culture, and environment play a major role in our acceptance or displeasure of a hug. In many cultures hugging and even kissing are quite appropriate.
If you are in a situation where you know two people well and there are others in the party that you do not know well, you can begin the hello or goodbye process with those you do not know well first. By extending your hand for a proper handshake you have respected their presence and space. You can then turn to your friends and offer them a hug. This way, no one feels uncomfortable.
Situation: What if someone is reaching out to hug you and you do not know them well?
Solution: When someone is coming in for the hug, be proactive and initiate a handshake. Extend your hand towards them and look them in the eye. Make sure your feet are firmly anchored so they don't shake your hand and pull you in for the hug. Body language is a strong communicator and these actions should help the non-hugger avoid those unwanted embraces.
Etiquette is truly about how you make others feel. It is a way of being with others that provides a sense of ease. Our goal is to create a connection with people and build rapport. We need to be aware of our environment. As in any situation, it is always best to err on the side of a more conservative approach. The bottom line is be tuned in to your clients and respect their personal boundaries when it comes to hugs in the workplace.