Handshakes or hugs?

28 Aug

Handshakes or hugs?

We all know that a handshake in a professional setting is not only an expectation but it demonstrates that you are polite, confident and approachable.

But what happens when the handshake turns into a hug?

I recently delved into this topic with one of my favourite clients when we were discussing business etiquette and we both shared our experiences of when the handshake was replaced with a hug and how we felt about this.  The consensus was – awkward!!

You know the scenario – you go in for the handshake, they go for the hug – there is an awkward pause and then it is just a collision of body parts.

This is not always relevant when there are two male acquaintances meeting as the handshake is the norm, but in my case and the case of many of my female colleagues, is it a handshake or hug.

When I was hashing this out with my female client we came up with the following thoughts:

  • Always shake hands when you are meeting someone for the first time in a business setting – you don’t know them yet;
  • If you are not a hugger put your hand out as you move towards the other party – this sets an immediate expectation for the interaction;
  • If you are a hugger, declare it! Tell the other party that you are a hugger so they have the opportunity to agree to it or step back.
  • Consider the ‘emotional contract’ you have with your client/colleague – would it be expected that you are at a point in your working relationship that it is OK to hug? And what does this mean to the relationship – you don’t want any weird mixed messages;
  • Leave the ‘power’ shakes to the politicians – this sets the wrong tone to a meeting and no one likes to walk away with a bruised hand;
  • Consider the person, the environment and workplace policy – hugging could be seen as sexual harassment in the wrong circumstance so if in doubt, don’t!

It’s hard not to read too much into it but in the end its about relationships, setting some personal ground rules and your ability to read the scenario correctly.  Instinct should be able to guide you but when in doubt, choose a handshake over a hug, at the very least it will stop some potentially awkward moments!


Helen Tame , HR Strategist

Helen brings over 15 years of Marketing Management and HR experience to the team and has worked in a variety of industries including retail, wholesale, logistics and not-for-profit business environments. With a passion coaching and mentoring teams, Helen provides contemporary high level operational and strategic support across the full spectrum of Human Resource settings.

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