There has been a lot of hullabaloo this week about the subject of women hugging too much at work. Apparently embracing your co-workers when you are a female human is not good for your career. Men shake hands. And wear suits. And grill things. Women hug. And wear pink. And like flowers. Handshakes: good. Hugs: bad. Has it come to this?
But actually, it is a good topic to bring up and a bit of a complex one. In a post for Medium, journalist and founder of Contently Shane Snow said he gets very stressed when it comes to hugging his female colleagues and business acquaintances. He wrote:
“With females, I feel like I’m trapped between two walls of a deep-space garbage compactor. On the first meeting, we shake hands. Easy. But the next time we cross paths? Is a handshake now too formal (especially if we got along well in the first meeting)? Will a hug be awkward? What if the answer to both is ‘yes’?! Maybe I am taking too long to react to her ‘hello’ and am starting to look like a robot. Maybe my mental hug-or-handshake calculation is manifesting in a frightening way on my face. Maybe I have something in my teeth. Maybe I should pull the fire alarm, so I can get out of here.”
Wow. That does sound pretty stressful. And you never want to get lost in the awkward space where you end up, like, shaking the person (watch Just Friends for one of the best examples), or doing that ever-so-awkward do-we-hug-or-handshake dance. (If you do find yourself in one of these, I say just pretend you are actually dancing; people will think you are odd, but sometimes odd is better than awkward. Odd people die of embarrassment less often.)
Now, I am on the fence when it comes to this subject. I myself am not a big hugger, but I support people who hug (hey people, hugs not drugs). But I don’t know if it is that professional. But that depends on where you work. You probably shouldn’t hug your co-counsel right after you win a big case in the middle of the courtroom, but in an intimate startup, hugging is not frowned upon. Well, this wasn’t very helpful.
But I think it is an interesting point that women who hug a lot at work may be viewed as weaker. We have talked about body language that can automatically make you come off as less powerful (big hand gestures, posture, head tilts), but is a hug included in this group?
Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, leadership blogger for Forbes and author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead, who is actually helpful, told Levo why women should go for a handshake instead of a hug:
“Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal signal. Physical touch and warmth are established through the handshaking tradition, and this tactile contact makes a lasting impression. It may well be what someone remembers most about meeting you. The thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of a handshake is to greet someone or say good-bye or express congratulations or to signal agreement on a deal. As such, it should be perceived as warm, friendly, and sincere.
“People with ‘good’ handshakes (firm, web-to-web, palm-to-palm) are evaluated as being extroverted and emotionally expressive. And this is especially important for in the workplace—because women with firm handshakes are evaluated as positively as men.”
All of these are good points, but I think you need to read the room. Sometimes a handshake will not suffice when a big accomplishment has occurred. But when meeting someone for only the second time, a hug may not be necessary. Then again, in certain cultures you are expected to kiss people on the cheeks when you meet them, no matter what sex they are. Perhaps there are some people who overdo it on the hugging, but I do not think hugs need to be outlawed in the workplace. And sometimes you really need a hug.
What do you think: handshakes or hugs? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Kelly Hoey, Co-founder and Managing Director of Women Innovate Mobile, for her advice on giving a firm, professional handshake!