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Are You a Hugger?

One of the hallmarks of confidence is introducing yourself with impact which, in the United States, traditionally means, looking someone in the eye, shaking their hand firmly, and using your first and last name.

But do you ever get a hug instead? And, think, “That was awkward.”

The reality is, that “awkward moment,” actually becomes a memory with a lasting impact, because your greetings and goodbyes are part of your professional presence and they can influence how other people feel about you.  Also, in a world that’s increasingly casual and increasingly crude, it’s good to polish up. To put a stamp on the Brand of YOU. That’s where you can set the stage for interactions that show respect and civility, and have boundaries.

About a year ago, I had a breakfast meeting with someone at a popular restaurant, to talk about bringing the Confidence Project to his company. At the end of the conversation, I asked, “So, how should I follow up?”  He said, “We need to have breakfast again.”

I thought, “No we don’t. We do not need to have breakfast again. Either you want to hire me, or you don’t.”  But I couldn’t think that fast, so I said, “OK.”

Then, I stood up to say, “Goodbye,” and I extended my arm, and he said, “I need a hug.”  And I thought, “I’ve only known you for an hour. I don’t want to hug you.”

But he was a big guy and he came in for “the hug.” After that, I stepped back and extended my hand because I wanted to end the meeting in the way that was comfortable and professional for me. But I walked away asking myself, “How did that happen? And how can I keep it from happening again?”

For perspective, I contacted several Confidence Project Advisors, of various ages, genders, and industries, who’ve lived and worked all over the world.

Question: “How do you feel about hugging in the workplace?”

The consensus? “It depends!” Here’s what they offered:

Number 1. Consider Cultural Differences. For instance, in some parts of Europe, like the UK, hugging is unusual in the workplace. In Latin America, it’s common. In parts of Asia, people bow, or hold their palms together with a slight bow.

When I took the Confidence Project to Rwanda, we learned that Rwandans often greet by hugging first, then they shake hands, and then, sometimes, they hold hands for the rest of the conversation!

So, it’s not just a question of your individual preference, it’s also a cultural question. Know the culture, then you can be appropriate and respectful.

Number 2. Read Social Cues. Many of the Advisors said, they don’t initiate hugs with colleagues or clients but, some said, “At times, hugging can be appropriate. It says we know and trust each other. . . that we’re on the team and there’s a bond, especially if we’ve shared some business pain.” So, some think it’s OK to hug, as long as it’s nothing more than that.

They all agree, however, to make sure your hugs are mutual. If someone is coming in for a handshake, honor that. Read their body language.

Number 3. Be ready for what you want. If you don’t want to hug, pre-empt. Extend your hand first, to be clear. You can also say, “You know, I’m not much of a hugger, but it’s good to see you again.” And then shake their hand.

No matter what, whether you handshake, hug, or get caught in a hug, keep it short.

For the next 30 days, practice taking charge of your greetings and goodbyes. This is how you can manage your professional presence and keep your boundaries.

Today, everybody has to be careful to avoid even “a hint of impropriety.” And, it’s more important than ever for men. This is our world and what matters most is that you confidently connect with people, in a way that shows respect for everyone, including yourself.

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