Many of us are accustomed to hugging and being hugged by people we love. By contrast, workplace hugging usually takes place between people who respect each other, but who aren't in love. For some, hugging at work therefore presents social and political challenges. We ask ourselves: Should I hug? What kinds of hugs are acceptable? Which people should I hug or not hug?
Here are some insights and guidelines for hugging at work.
- Know how to tell when a hug is coming your way
- When two people meet, they greet each other, and they sometimes hug or shake hands. It all happens so quickly that we don't realize how we can distinguish the type of greeting that's about to happen. Watch for the forward step. If your partner steps toward you, more than would be necessary for a handshake, prepare for a hug.
- Know how to give a "standard" workplace hug
- If there is a standard, a standard workplace hug in the U.S. today is a one-armed reach (usually the right arm) around the shoulders of your partner, including one or two shoulder pats and a smile. Two-armed hugs are generally less common. Even more unusual: two-armed hugs in which the first partner has both arms around the waist of the second, while the second has both arms over the shoulders of the first. The less common a hug style is in your workplace, the greater the risk that some will see it as inappropriate.
- If you know you might be hugging, keep clothing and accessories in mind
- If you or your partner is wearing anything that might catch on the other's clothing, beware. Few situations are more embarrassing than two huggers who can't disengage, or a hug disengagement that results in a wardrobe malfunction. It's best not to wear anything that can snag the clothing of people you hug.
- If there is a standard,
a standard workplace
hug in the U.S. today
is a one-armed reach
- Pay attention to height differences
- When the heights of a hugging pair differ substantially, the shorter of the two can pay a political price for the hug. People of small stature, especially males, are already at a political disadvantage in many workplaces. Hugging people much taller can exaggerate that disadvantage.
- Take care with male-male hugs
- Some males prefer not to hug other males under any circumstances. Their numbers are declining, but they certainly have a right to their preference. If you're one of these men, try not to push yourself beyond your level of comfort; if you aren't, try not to push others. Compelling yourself or others to engage in hugging when they'd rather not is at least disrespectful, and it can lead to awkward and embarrassing incidents.
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For more about workplace hugging, see "Unwelcome Workplace Hugs," Point Lookout for August 8, 2007.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: II
- Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust
really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
- Confronting the Workplace Bully: I
- When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront
or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
- What Insubordinate Nonsubordinates Want: III
- When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you doesn't comply
with policies you rightfully established, trouble looms. What role do supervisors play?
- Not Really Part of the Team: II
- When some team members hang back, declining to show initiative, we tend to overlook the possibility
that their behavior is a response to something happening within or around the team. Too often we hold
responsible the person who's hanging back. What other explanations are possible?
- Human Limitations and Meeting Agendas
- Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control
and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings
more productive and save us from ourselves.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.