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Hug vs. Handshake

Navigating awkward salutations in the workplace

When I run into a male acquaintance in a work setting, I know exactly how to greet him: shake his hand. Gay or straight, doesn’t matter how long we’ve known each other. We shake.

But as a straight, cis man, I often feel like I’m trapped between two walls of a deep-space garbage compactor when it comes to greeting women at work. 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 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.

I’m not interested in dating someone whose work life intersects mine—it’s not territory I’m interested in navigating at this point in my adult life. My only concern at this point in my interactions with people at work is to get past any awkwardness and move on to meaningful conversations. Outside of work, though, I’m much more comfortable. Hugs for everyone! If I’ve had a meaningful conversation with someone, I will hug her next time I see him or her.

Except… what if it was a meaningful work conversation outside of the office? What if she’s a former professor of mine? Or a client? Or a longtime client? What if she’s an investor? But she invested in me?

Do we hug? Will she feel slighted if I stiff-arm with a handshake? What about my female employees? They’re awesome! We all bond and hang out after work. But I’m their boss. Is it hug or shake when we run into each other at Whole Foods?

The more I think about it, the more I spiral counter-clockwise down the toilet of anxiety. It all adds up to only a few seconds of awkwardness per day—and maybe I read into things more than others would—but I hate the thought that I may be inflicting awkwardness on the people in my work life by greeting them like a deer greets headlights.

And don’t get me started on that weird cheek kiss handshake thing. Let’s just take this one step at a time.


P.S. There’s a lively discussion on Hacker News about this post right now. Please join in!

P.P.S. The Atlantic Wire has now added more fuel to the hug-anxiety fire, in case you care to learn the difference between The Hard Wrap and The Sloth Hug.

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