Should your workplace ban hugs?

Embraces and cheek kisses can lead to awkward and inappropriate situations, but you can deflect without causing a scene

Should your workplace ban hugs?

There are few things that make a worker feel more uncomfortable than unwanted body contact – yet many, especially women, feel they’re unable to escape from a professional contact’s hug or cheek kiss.

However, an etiquette expert says there are ways to politely deflect without causing a scene – though she adds that employers should be training workers to give quality handshakes instead of closer contact.

“Hugs can be very slippery. About five years ago, they started to become a lot more common,” says Julie Blais Comeau, who goes by the title of chief etiquette officer of

“Socially, it can be very appropriate, but you’re really making full contact – it’s not just the hand, you’re belly to belly, and sometimes, because we all come in different shapes and sizes, it could be quite uncomfortable.”

In some industries, such as the arts, or in particular cultures, a hug or double cheek kiss might be the norm.

However, in others, that contact often makes for an awkward experience and is best avoided – unless you have a long-standing relationship with the other party.

“Generally speaking, the only acceptable touch in business is the handshake – and it is the universal greeting of choice,” Blais Comeau says

But as hugs and kisses become more prevalent, there’s an increase in questioning – especially from women – about how to best deflect it.

The best way, she says, “can be a little bit sticky”.

“Once the handshake is occurring, at the same time, he’s going to be taking his eyes from her eyes and he’s going to start to aim, with his eyes, for her cheek. What the woman can do to deflect that – and this is where there’ll be a little bit of a tug – she’s going to take the eye contact and she’s going to direct it at his right arm, where the handshake is,” Blais Comeau suggests.

“He’s going to be wanting to come in to go to the cheek, and there’ll be a little bit of a pas de deux back and forth, where she’s going to be insisting, by looking at the handshake and then coming back up to his eyes, that it’s going to stay as a handshake. She’s establishing her boundaries, her professional proximity if you wish.”

Very few professionals have had formal training in appropriate greetings, including how to give a great handshake, and Blais Comeau recommends employers should call in a professional to make sure their staff know the boundaries and make a positive first impression.

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