I was reared in a family where we were not “huggers.” So early in life I was not really comfortable with hugging anyone, especially anyone outside my family. This is not to say we were not a loving family, we just didn’t express it with hugs. Then I married a girl from an Italian family. In meeting her family I had to get over the “hugging hurdle.” I have and now hugging is much more comfortable except in work situations. I know that hugging is cultural and different companies will have different cultures but there are five things you should consider about hugging at work.
Hugging can get you in trouble
My friend and fellow blogger Miriam Salpeter offered some excellent advice in her blog post Are Hugs The New Handshake? Miriam is a recognized career coach so it helps to heed her advice. She points out that you really need to be aware of the company culture. In conservative company cultures it is unlikely you are going to be seeing much hugging. In fact even a handshake that involves clasping with both hands may be seen as going overboard. So be aware of the culture.
She also suggests that it is important to be aware of your comfort zone and those of others. You need to be adept at reading the body language of others and not pushing boundaries. If you are comfortable with hugging you need to be aware that others are not and respect those boundaries.
Be aware that hugging, regardless of how well meaning, can be seen as harassing. Miriam says you should never hug a subordinate. I will add it is probably not a good idea to hug the boss either. Some people are even uncomfortable with touching of any sort. Of course much of that may depend on the dynamics of the individuals involved.
Miriam also points out that there are some extraordinary situations in which a hug may be appropriate. I can provide such an example. I was leaving a position after 10 years. I had become good friends with my boss and when saying good bye we gave each other a brief hug and a pat on the back. Other situations may involve consoling a co-worker over some bad news or loss. Particularly in situations of bad news we often seek the comfort of another person.
Touch is a very powerful thing. It bonds people. It improves communication. But at the same time it also can creep someone out if done in the wrong place, in the wrong situation by the wrong person.
I agree with Miriam in her conclusion “The safest bet is to avoid hugging in the workplace.” It will make it easier to avoid situations with unpleasant consequences.
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