Do Hugs Belong in Business?

A group of us at PerkettPR have been debating this topic for some time now. It seems to us that women in particular face a conundrum when it comes to business greeting situations. For some reason, it’s often awkward because many people tend to hug women instead of shake their hands. With men, the handshake is the protocol. But for women, it seems the protocol is up in the air.

Do you hug, do you shake hands, do you air kiss? Maybe in the fashion world the air kiss works but otherwise, it just feels awkward and insincere. What’s wrong with a good old fashioned handshake? I personally like the unspoken challenge when someone grabs your hand and squeezes hard during the handshake. You know it’s a bit of a power test. But the hug? Almost condescending when it comes from a man (let’s be gentle with the ladies?), and often awkward when it comes from a female counterpart (especially an unknown, such as a prospective client). And the air kiss? Depends on the business, but mostly, it feels insincere.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are colleagues and clients that I’ve worked with for years that warrant a hug – and who I’m perfectly comfortable with on that level. But here’s the dilemma to that – you enter a business meeting, hug the colleagues you’ve known for years and then you turn to someone you’ve just met. What do you do? Do you hug them? That feels strange. If you don’t hug them, will they be offended? When they just saw you hug everyone else, they may wonder if you’re going to hug them – then you go to shake their hand while they lean in for a hug. Aw-kward.

Sometimes, when you don’t see a colleague or a client for a while, they’ll hug you instead of shake your hand. But in day-to-day situations you wouldn’t do this, so why do it at all? Of course, there are times when hugs and high fives are warranted all around, perhaps, such as when a great piece of new business is closed, or a team challenge is won.

Do hugs belong in business? Do you hug colleagues or clients? Do you always greet them this way, or just when you haven’t seen them in a while? What’s the protocol – if there is one? We’d love your opinions.




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26 thoughts on “Do Hugs Belong in Business?

  1. I dont think a hug is appropriate in any sort of meeting, no matter how close you are with the clients or co-workers. Nothing but a handshake is acceptable. A social situation, i.e. a party or happy hour drinks, is gray and I would say a hug or air kiss is ok since its more casual.

  2. This is an interesting debate, since many people even forgo the handshake. I do think the hug doesn't have a place, unless you have a personal relationship with a client. It might be awkward but certainly acceptable.

    It amazes me though at how many people have really bad handshakes. Both genders are at fault, but women are particularly bad. Why is that?

  3. I agree with LimorE. In this social network-driven world, the lines certainly blur when we're attending tweetups, fundraisers, etc. together. To me that's where it becomes more awkward, as it seems like the office setting just screams “no hugs!”. The other thing that complicates the situation a bit is the 2 parties might have differing opinions of what level of friendship they're at. For example- I might interpret regular Twitter/Facebook conversations as a sign that we're good friends, while my acquaintance might feel like she barely knows me!

    In any case, I'd always err on the side of a handshake. Better to risk being considered cold than offend by invading someone's personal space.

  4. In business, I'd say no, particularly in situations where some would get hugged and some not. As you said, it's awkward for the non-hugged. :) There might be exceptions. If everyone knows each other socially as well as in business, and there weren't strangers around, what's the harm?

    In a social situation, though, I don't see a problem. Everyone gets to choose. Some are huggers, some are not. It's ok either way.

  5. I appreciate this topic because, well, I am a hugger. I hugged a colleague of mine when she joined the team and she later told me she is, in fact, not a hugger. It was the first time I realized there is a distinction between those who hug and those who don't want to be hugged. The lover in me says, “How can you not want a hug?” but the realist says “Swine flu, just not that into you, cooties.” I have been in the situation of a business meeting where I need to decide whether to hug or shake hands. It is awkward because I am a hugger and tend to become friends with colleagues (which to some is also a no-no). Although the handshake is probably more business-like, I can't help or change who I am and…I am a hugger and proud of it. If you get hugs from me when I see you on the street or at a bar or at an event, you will get a hug from me when I see you for a meeting. So be warned. Be ready. Be happy to be hugged. (Jeez, I feel better for getting this off my chest. Thanks, Chris!! Great post:)

  6. I think people take themselves too seriously. If you have a good relationship with a female client and the familiarity is such that a hug isn't awkward for either, then show the love! I have yet to hug a male client though…. :D

  7. I have a client that I have known for years – personally and professionally – he will hug me and kiss my cheek. I've never been offended and am flattered we share that kind of relationship. I also have another client that I have known for 25 years – we don't hug and even a handshake seems awkward – that is his personality. Personally, it all works for me. I say there is no one size fits all – go with the feeling and don't over-think the moment.

  8. Great topic. Tough question. I wish someone would rule from way-on-high with a couple of stone tablets and let everyone know la deal… because that is the dilemma. Some do, some don't, and how to know who is who? I have worked for companies with a lot of socializing, where hugging (and sometimes the double Euro cheek kiss) was the norm. It would seem awkward not to hug … because, well … I have all those embarassing photos in my posession.
    In consulting, however I tend to go in with the hand-shake and let the client initiate any hugging. Recently I had a client with whom I had a firm hand-shake policy. When a new brand firm came into the picture, the account team hugged everyone and suddenly, I felt like a chilly willy for never offering a hug. I went along with the hug-a-thon and then went back to handshakes … with a joke. “Hey,” I announced. “I'm a WASP … I'm not even sure I'm at the hugging stage with my mom.” When in doubt … call it out (with a little self-depricating humor)

  9. Thank you – that makes sense re: business meeting vs. social setting. But like Chad says below, the lines can blur these days. For example, you may hug someone at a cocktail party and then the next day in a meeting, they go for a hug and you stick your hand out for a shake. They might wonder what they did to offend you. And this is why we continue to debate!

  10. Hi Chuck, I'm not sure why that is – I would chalk it up to many women still getting comfortable with their position in the workforce as leaders, or maybe hundreds of years of sticking their limp, dainty hands out to be kissed instead of shaken. YUCK. :)

  11. Thanks Chad – you always have great insights. I agree with you that these are some interesting elements complicating the situation. People might also think that because they see you at a party each week, you are good friends and you might think that it's all business networking. I guess like any relationship, the views can be disparate and that certainly does complicate the situation. To be safe, I say handshakes unless you really have known someone for a long time and/or ever hung out or connected (in the real world) on a personal level.

  12. Thanks Joe! I think you are agreeing with Chad and LimorE – keep the handshakes to business meetings and hug away after hours if you are so inclined?

    I agree with you re: if you know someone in business and socially. However, even then – I tend to keep the hugs for personal events, like after business hour events. There are a couple of exceptions for me and it's with people I've known for a decade or longer, usually.

  13. Michelle – knowing you personally this of course does not surprise me. :) I can see you charming everyone into the hug greeting!

    See, it's a good conversation to have, right?! Most of us here tend to default to handshakes in meetings, hugs maybe after a dinner where we won't see colleagues or clients for awhile.

  14. Jared thanks for reading! I agree if it's not awkward for either party it is fine. It's when one party is a hugger and the other isn't that it can get awkward. Or, when someone might hug (say, at a cocktail party) one time and then not hug the next time they see you (say, during a meeting) that the non-hugger can get completely confused. :)

  15. Thank you! Makes sense – but you sound like someone who is very intuitive and pays attention to what individuals prefer, or what you perceive they would prefer. It's a great talent to have that insight, but unfortunately, not everyone does.

    Thanks for reading!

  16. Hmmm…tricky. I would say that hugging colleagues is appropriate given your constant interaction with one another. But keep greetings with clients to a handshake. There should always be some level of professionalism despite any ongoing relationship you may have with them.

  17. Here is an answer. Simply call the handshake a hand hug and you have solved your problem.

    Don't hug someone you are not comfortable hugging. And if you are uncertain if the other person wants a hug, ask permission. And yes, men need to hug men if they are going to hug women.

    Hugging in the right setting can be a powerful form of touch that heals the hurt and pain.

  18. For me it is less about business than the relationship with the person I am greeting. I do the “man hug” with quite a few guy friends. With women, I tend to let them lead on the greeting. Are we huggers or hand shakers?

  19. In a social setting, personally, I like to “Hug-It-Out!” – I do warn people though. For example, when I finally met @stales in-person I said, “Look, I'm gonna hug you!”

    I prefer a handshake for clients or any “meeting” that is business-related. Even if a client wear jeans to the office, I would never wear them to a meeting – that's my logic. Plus, I have a solid handshake ;)

  20. Let me clarify. I work in health care and I believe hugging is very important when dealing with strong emotions. When a sales person is working with a family to make a decision about placing mother in a nursing home, it is appropriate to hug a very emotional, tearful family member. When a patient is dying, it is appropriate to hug the family members. So, yes, even in the world of business there are times that hugging can help heal the hurt and pain.

  21. Yeah you do! Good sensibilities – but we knew that. Thanks for commenting! (I do remember that @stales moment – it was appropriate; not a biz meeting. As was the holiday party – meeting coworkers for the first time even though you've talked to them a gazillion – seems appropriate, too. Especially since it was a party).

  22. Career “flair.” Momma like. We've had successories … now wearable intent. I smell business opportunity!

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