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Jun 23, 201404:33 PMOpen Mic

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Shake hands or hug it out? Embracing awkward moments in business greetings

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Today’s professional conundrum is brought to you by the Proper Greeting and its subsidiary Proper Greeting Confusion. If you have participated in networking events or business meetings over the years, you have inevitably faced the Confusion. For example: A group of men meet, shake hands, maybe slap each other’s backs, and occasionally engage in an ill-advised fist bump (unless you are in a frat, driving a car with a pink mustache, or under the age of 24, just don’t). Add a woman to the mix and Proper Greeting Confusion ensues, particularly when the participants are somewhat familiar with each other.

Some people are huggers, some are not, and often you do not know who is who. I have friends who will hug everyone. I, on the other hand, am a consummate stodgy German and feel very uncomfortable with randomly doling out hugs. So I routinely notice some handshake hesitation — both from men and other women, and even my own awkward self.

I thought that maybe I was an oddball for noticing this, but at a networking group recently it was the topic of discussion. During that lively conversation, everyone in the group had either given it some thought, suffered an awkward full hug or half-committed shoulder bump, or been left out of a handshake in mixed company. Examples included:

  1. The Hybrid Handshake: You go to shake someone’s hand, and he or she immediately leans into this handshake/hug combo. More often than not this ends with that uncomfortable shoulder slide-off thing because someone hadn’t fully committed to the hug idea.
  2. Handshake Hesitation: You wait it out. Will they shake my hand or just ignore me? I sometimes pretend my phone is buzzing or there is an errant bug in my eye so that I don’t have to deal with it. There have been frequent episodes where someone has looked at me and I think they are going to shake my hand, but then don’t, and I’m left in the awkward mid-hand-raise moment. Sometimes I do a sad little wave. I swear I have actually saluted people in that situation. They were not military personnel.
  3. Hug Happy: That person who thinks that if she’s ever met you before you need to be greeted by a big ol’ hug. I am so very not that person. But I try to be accommodating to different styles of greetings. Note: These people tend to strike more at networking events than at meetings.
  4. Traditional: Everyone is greeted by and dismissed with a firm handshake — even best friends. You just can’t go wrong.
  5. Things that should be banned: European air kisses, head patting (this actually happened to me in a meeting), fist bumps (see above), and complicated handshakes that end with some sort of jazz hands.

Following the networking event I mentioned above, I posed the question to a group of women whom I meet with for a monthly dinner, and almost everyone had an awkward hug story or had been in situations where they were passed over for a handshake. One of the women, however, explained that she had solved the issue years ago: “I always shake hands. Always. If I know them well, I simply cover the hand I’m shaking with my other hand.” I asked, “Like a hand hug?” She replied, “Exactly.” It is a brilliant solution that displays an acknowledgment of familiarity without creating any uncomfortableness for anyone.


Old to new | New to old
Jun 26, 2014 02:26 pm
 Posted by  Jeanne R.

Amen! I'm a women and I help facilitate meetings for an all-male board. In a professional setting such as this, I have always gone in with the handshake or "hand hug." Most often, however, the other party comes in with a full out-n-out hug. It's awkward and I find it a bit sexist. If I were male, I doubt our greetings would be anything but a handshake.

Jun 28, 2014 02:08 pm
 Posted by  Michael Miller

Shaking hands is one of the most common ways that illnesses are passed around. I am disgusted by how often I have watched men leave a restroom without washing their hands - and just touching the door handle when leaving the bathroom leaves germs on your hand. Hand washing is one of the best ways to avoid illness. It is frustrating living in a society where I am expected to shake the hand of a total stranger when I am introduced to him or her. I think that bowing slightly to one another would be the best solution when greeting others, but we are in the wrong country for that.

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