To Hug or Not to Hug

Have you noticed that it is not entirely unusual for people in business to hug each other when saying hello or goodbye? Back in the day, when we had a business meeting, we were all very formal, and shook hands before and after meetings. We would never think of hugging someone we do business with. Hugs were reserved for family members and very close friends.

But I’ve noticed that it has become OK to hug people in business and I think it says a lot about what’s going on in the world today.

I think all of us need a hug every once in a while. In this time of being Facebook “friends” or LinkedIn “connections,” it’s hard to know who is really your friend and who is just a connection (formerly referred to as an acquaintance). With so many people in business working remotely or from their home offices, it’s hard to feel connected to your work colleagues. And if you travel a lot, or just have a long commute, it’s equally as hard to feel connected to your family.

So what do you do?

One of my coworkers, Oakley, used to ride a commuter bus to work in downtown Los Angeles. Five days a week, she rode on the bus with the same group of strangers. Over the years, they got to know each other. Now, many years later, they have all changed jobs multiple times. And they have an annual reunion dinner because they became actual friends! Their bond? Riding the bus together, first as strangers.

For me, I’ve noticed some unintended consequences of connecting with industry work colleagues via Facebook. As I see photos of their family vacations, life cycle events, or personal challenges (like running a marathon), I feel more connected to them. Now when I see them at an industry event, I know quite a bit about them (based on their posts) and suddenly there is a personal connection. Instead of shaking their hands, I find myself hugging them and asking about their family, their new child or grandchild, or home. It’s amazing how connected you feel when people open up and share what’s going on in their personal lives.


Photo Credit: Flickr/Kashmut

I still do shake hands with new business colleagues or acquaintances. But after a nice meal together, I find myself saying goodbye with a hug, more often than with a handshake. And I’ve noticed the same thing happening with both women and men. I see a lot of guys do that “chest bump” hug that doesn’t look entirely sincere, but provides the same affectionate bonding.

How do you feel about this? Do you find yourself only shaking hands with people you meet, or have you found the same thing going on? That a hug is more satisfying? It provides a different kind of connection, one we all need.

So, in this day of pervasive working remotely, commuting two to three hours a day, or finding your closest friends are your Facebook friends, I give you permission to hug people, instead of just shaking their hands.

I think you will find, like I have, that the personal, tactile connection is deeply satisfying and grounding. And helps you get through the day.



6 thoughts on “To Hug or Not to Hug

  1. Great observations about how social media is keeping us in touch with others on a more frequent basis. When a colleague announced his retirement, he hugged them but struggled with saying goodbye to many of his customers. He felt better when he started saying “till next time” and let them know he’d keep up with them on Facebook.

  2. I can’t help myself but hug people. But that’s a problem sometimes. A hugger’s intentions may be pure, but there are a lot of people who really do not like to be touched. The hug is intended to make the other person feel welcome and accepted, but that’s not what they’re feeling when you hug them. So I think it is selfish and unkind to hug people you don’t know somewhat intimately. If in doubt, simply ask, ‘may I hug you?’ If they say no, don’t feel rejected or intimidated. Just say, ‘well, it IS very nice to meet you’. And PLEASE remember who does not like to be hugged. And if you’re going to hug, do it right. It’s your left cheek over the other person’s left shoulder … so that hearts are touching at the chest – or there abouts. It doesn’t feel natural at first, but once everybody is doing it right it will feel right. God bless.

  3. I love this post! I come from a family of “huggers”, so it is not weird or foreign to me to hug business colleagues who I’ve at shared a great conversation, or broken bread with. I believe a handshake is proper when meeting someone for the first time, however.

    I am often surprised when I visit my husband’s place of work, and his colleagues, who I’ve met time and time again, still shake my (and each other’s) hand. That said, he is a teacher, and so maybe a school isn’t the most appropriate place for hugs. On the contrary, my husband thinks it is “weird” (for lack of a better term) that everyone in our industry gives hugs instead of handshakes.

    I think because our industry is so people-centric, and creating/fostering relationships are at the foundation of how we conduct business, a hug with a new or old friend is more than okay… it’s a way of solidifying and growing our business friendships. I have never come across someone who is hesitant or resistant to return my hug.

    And let’s face it, the world could use more hugs these days… maybe this is our industry’s way of doing our part to make the world a nicer place!

    XOXO all around!

  4. Karen
    I am so glad you are taking the positive side of the hugging equation. As a faculty member at Texas A&M I and almost all of my male colleagues were very reluctant to hug female colleagues due to potential sexual harassment charges. Then when I left Texas A&M and worked in Argentina for 5 years, every morning when I got to the office I kissed all the women on the cheek good morning. I dont remember seeing anyone in Argentina giving shaking hands. The salutation after and email is un abrazo (hug) if it is a male and besos (kisses) if it is a female. But these hugs and kisses are different from the USA. The hugs between men are a like a big slap on the back and the kisses are not romantic kisses, just hello as kids, teenagers and grandparents give them.

    I just LOVE the latino affectionate way of doing business and being friends.

    I never saw my parents hug or kiss. They were of German stock many years back.

    I think ” us anglos” are just too hung up with ancient traditions that need to be done away with.

    Thanks so very much for raising this, I am so glad you did it and am 2000 % in favor of it- but unfortunately I am too scared to give hugs to the younger females at my work place.

  5. The sentiment is nice, the practice is fraught with potential misunderstandings and issues that have to do with status/power ratios, situational and psychological artifacts, cultural norms (corporate, professional, regional, ethnic, national, etcetera).
    Sometimes it’s hard to choose between carpe diem and caveat emptor …. 😉

  6. I’m glad to be on “hugging” terms with you. I suppose our years in the industry and attending industry functions could be compared to as Oakley’s Bus Riding family.

    The Produce Industry is Family and Families Hug!

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