Hugs in the workplace
Hugs are like a great cigar. Hugs can make good times better and bad times not so bad. Of course this all depends on who is giving the hug, who is watching, and the grope factor. With that in mind, I thought I would try to put together the HRNasty guide to “Hugs in the Workplace”. The workplace is becoming the new melting pot. With so many different cultures, age groups and demographics entering the workplace, the rules are becoming re-written. The lawyers are making the money reading the unwritten and massaging the definition of HWE (hostile work environment).
What makes me an expert on hugs in the workplace? It isn’t my years of experience in HR. It’s not the multiple work environments where I have practiced HR ranging from wild west small start-up to Fortune corporate environments with teams of lawyers. It isn’t the multiple classes I have taken to become certified to facilitate sensitivity training or the 35+ classes I have led on the topic. Quite simply it is my experience. I am qualified because I went through the full cycle of NOT knowing what a hug was to being a guy that will initiate and own this simple gesture of friendship.
The HRNasty experience:
I grew up in a stoic home. No PDA, no hugging, no touching. A literal flatline. Formal and un-emotional, designed for business efficiency and very little play. When I brought a very outgoing Mrs. HRNasty (then girlfriend) home for the first time, right there on the front porch, we had one last run-through on the rules of engagement when interacting with my parents:
- “Do NOT address my parents by their first name.”
- “Do NOT help yourself to a Coke from the refrigerator.”
- “Under NO circumstances do you hug anyone.”
Notice the above are not requests. These are in-your-face-finger pointing, “Lets be crystal clear about this.” directives. After hearing “OK, I GET IT ALREADY!” a number of times, we step into the front entryway. Ma and Pa Nasty come down to greet us and their first impression of the future Mrs. HRNasty is a “Hello Johnny, Hello Suzy!” calling both parents by their first name followed by a full-on “wrap the arms around you hugs” for both. OM-effin-G!! Mr. and Mrs. Nasty Parental Units were not feeling the love. I am feeling their stares go right through me, as I make a move to protect the refrigerator door.
My wife comes from a very demonstrative family and most of her friends are the same way. I come from a home that is very “NOT” demonstrative and most of my friends are the same way. In some circles, we would be classified as Vulcans and my father would take that as a compliment.
Hugging a NFL Cheerleader
When my wife and I were dating, she introduced me to her best friend and co-worker. This friend is as hot as they come. Ex NFL cheerleader, an aerobic instructor with a huge smile and a genuinely big heart. When my wife introduced us, I made the move to extend my hand in friendship. She moved in and gave me one of those “I heard so many great things about you, I feel like I know you, full-embrace and a kiss on the cheek for good measure” hugs. Being the stoic warrior that I was, not expecting physical contact or knowing how to take advantage of the situation, my hands were by my side, trapped by her embrace. I wasn’t exactly mortified. . .I was in that half way point between “Uhh, what are you doing touching me?” and “I wish my guy friends could see this, will someone take a picture of us dammit?”
That missed opportunity got me thinking and I feel like I have come a long way since. Below is I list a number of the traditional and not so traditional hugs. I leave it to you to deliver a thumbs up or thumbs down depending on your company culture.
Shoulder height handshake between two heterosexual men with an arm wrestling grip between right hands. Both men pull each other into their personal space, touch upper bodies, bring their left hands around to complete the embrace on the other mans back and then short hold. Can be followed by two soft pats on the back, which stands for “not gay”. Three pats on the back with the left hand is Morse code for “I’m not gay”. Pats are usually robust and loud as if wanting to specifically convey the message loud and clear.
Bro Hugs V.2
Note for the both Bro Hugs; under no circumstances should any man gently place his head on the other man’s shoulder or bosom. This pushes the hug into the “unacceptable” zone and is inappropriate in the workplace.
Up high and down low (technically not a hug, but the same feeling of brotherhood and camaraderie is communicated)
I was in a fish camp when two guys who I know would take a bullet for each other got out of their trucks. Instead of the usual Bro handshake, they pulled off the “Up High, Down Low” from Scrubs. This is not a move for amateurs. Up High, they bumped chests in the normal “I just slam dunked on that biatch” fashion that two teammates will share in an emotional victorious moment. The Coue de tat was a PeeWee Herman – esqe dance move. This was a coordinated single thrusting of their pelvises forward, towards each other. (There was no sword crossing or physical contact.) They came close enough that all witnesses took a quick deep breath as they saw what was going to happen but then were able to let it out, as the two bodies stopped just short of physical contact. This actually takes quite a bit of coordination and teamwork. Both anglers were collegiate athletes so easy for them. I am not coordinated to pull this off. This move is probably not appropriate for mixed company, and I wouldn’t recommend this type of hug in the workplace. Amongst a couple of fly fishing guides that live extreme outdoor lifestyles, I don’t think their brotherhood could have been communicated more effectively. Yes, I did feel left out.
Camaraderie team hug
This group hug looks more like a Rugby scrum and is typically used pre-game when a basketball team huddles up and rocks side to side in unison. This display from an obviously tight-knit group is usually performed impromptu to loud music and flashing lights and high levels of adrenaline. All of the players are bent forward at the waist and they sway from left to right as a strong unified team, and a single unit. This one is fun to watch done well and no matter how little you appreciate sports, this will get you fired up. Would love to see this in the workplace.
“Let’s hug it out Bitch”
Ari from the HBO TV Series Entourage uses the line he made a classic “Let’s hug it out Bitch” to make the transition from a serious moment to a lighthearted one. The line is implemented after putting Eric or Turtle down with an insulting remark about their lack of style, lack of height, or lack of women and then followed up with a smooth transitional “making up” hug. This is Probably not appropriate in at work setting, considering Ari – although the epitome of a corporate hustler and a personal hero. He also happens to be the poster boy for an HWE aka Hostile Work Environment.
I was recommended to interview for an HR position and was going to be interviewed by someone who I had no personal connection or history with. I was introduced to the CFO who I was interviewing with and we greeted each other with a formal business handshake. An extremely attractive blond and very outgoing employee literally ran up and shouted “HRNastyyyyyy” and gave me a big hug right in front of the C level hiring exec. For me, it was pretty awkward, but the exec played it cool and immediately said. . . wow, it is going to be very hard to decline anyone that can build relationships like that in this company. The attractive and outgoing colleague bestowed on me instant cred that cannot be bought. If you fit the above description (blond, hot and outgoing), then this is perfectly acceptable to me in the workplace. When I say perfectly acceptable with “me”, it is assumed I am the one receiving the hug, because I am going to gain the credibility. The loop-hole in this example which made the hug OK, I was still within the interview stage. I wasn’t a hired employee yet. A job offer was graciously accepted and the squishy hugs in the workplace unfortunately stopped.
This hug takes place when a person that is saving a life moves behind the choking person and hugs them from behind in an attempt to dislodge the day-old donut that was scavenged from the marketing department. This hug is perfectly acceptable in any corporate environment as long as the one getting hugged is truly on the verge of tapping out.
As a guy in HR, I am probably more conscious of physical contact than a hypochondriac in a daycare. All that being said, there is nothing worse than the awkward hug. The one where you try to do the right thing and stick your hand out and at the same time your counterpart leans in for the hug. Realizing the miscalculation, you lean in for the hug and your counterpart sticks their hand out for the shake.
If you think there is going to be a hug, lean in with confidence and act like the hot NFL cheerleader. Own it.
Still have questions about what is acceptable and what is not? When in doubt. . . handshake it out. Fortune 100 company? Handshake. Future mother in law? Handshake baby. . . just make sure to look them in the eye, smile and own it.
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.