Hug or Handshake? Confessions of a Serial Hugger

A cartoon of two men giving a hug or handshake
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Handshake or hug? What’s the right way to greet someone professionally? Is there even a right way? We break down the possibilities here.

The only way to make something not awkward is to talk about it

I’m having a serious dilemma and I don’t know what to do or how to handle it. I’m hoping that people can contribute to this conversation because I think it’s bigger than just a hug or handshake.

Today I visited the office of one of our favorite clients. These are people that I’ve worked with for 5-7 years and I really like them as humans. I entered the office and chatted with the admin at the front desk before my female work friends heard my voice and warmly greeted me at the reception desk. My first instinct was to have a hug. So I did. I’m not sure who instigated it. My other friend arrived I then almost immediately pulled out the hug! Why am I going around hugging women?

As I talk to them I start feeling a little panicked. Did I just harass them by forcing myself upon them? Obviously that’s not my intention, but with all the rhetoric it’s hard not to stop and think about it. In my 15+ year career I have only hugged six men in a professional environment. Two were my mentors, one at my wedding, and the others were with business partners who’re also friends (but don’t tell Jase or Trey I told you that!). YET. I have hugged nearly every woman I have worked with and for.

I am a serial hugger

A man and woman hug outside of a fancy house.

I became a hugger when I had to make the decision…do I hug or handshake when meeting a female business colleague?

Here is how I made my decision long ago.

I was around business people who were older than me in my early twenties and they all hugged each-other. I was more comfortable with handshakes but still got pulled into female hugs. It was almost like it was expected of me. You can see a hug coming, and unless you’re mean you typically take and engage in the hug. So I engaged in those hug relations.

Often I went back to the handshake but then there was always this half hug, half handshake awkwardness. I felt like I was being cold and that it would be better with women because they were typically more sensitive. (I’m at least 30x more sensitive than my wife. No offense to my wife. I cry at commercials.) So I got in the habit of hugging.

Now back to the present time

I’m in my meeting and it goes wonderful. I walk out and my clients introduce me to a man I have never worked with before. He is on the phone. Do we hug? No! Of course we don’’t hug! We shake hands!

A cartoon of two men giving a hug or handshake

Then I went on my way. Heading towards the exit, I ran back into my female work friends. We chatted for a bit, and then it was time to leave. So, what do I do? I instinctively I went in for goodbye hugs. One, two, what the hell am I doing? I pull back. I’m overthinking my every move as I smile and say my goodbyes…when….up walks another female work friend. And I give her a handshake!

It immediately feels awkward to me. I feel too formal and cold. Did I just insult her?

I want to do what makes people feel comfortable, but unfortunately there is no indicator of a person’s hug or handshake preference. OR: is there something else? Waving? Who knows? Seriously! WHO KNOWS?!

I need your thoughts, people!  Hug or handshake?!

In general, I’m just hyper-focused on how I treat women lately. I never really thought about it before, and now I think about this stuff constantly. Is it OK to hug a woman who you’re friendly with? Is hugging even appropriate at all? Is hugging sexual? I see hugging more as something that’s welcoming or a sign of safety. When is hugging not appropriate? Why don’t men give hugs to other men but women give hugs to other women? Sure, we’re different; but why are we different, and is it changing?

Three women hugging each other.

I actually prefer handshakes. I love hugging people, but I like hugging for extended periods of time, which is not socially acceptable. After video production shoots or photography shoots, I typically shake crew members’ hands and thank them. In that instance I shake male and female hands and there is no awkwardness. Is that because we all just did something involving manual labor? Why is this situation different from an office meeting?

Ladies? Men? What do we do about this?!


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