The hugging dilemma

When I teach handshakes in my client trainings or presentations I’m often asked about hugging. Because the West Coast tends to be more informal, there is a lot of hugging going on, especially between women. But, there are a good many people who don’t like to be hugged. 

Twice now I have hugged clients who I didn’t know that well. Part of the reason I did was through all of our correspondence and phone conversations I felt like they were old friends. I also felt that a handshake was too formal, but not doing anything when greeting them felt awkward. I should add that both of the clients were women. At the risk of sounding sexist, had they been men I would have shaken their hands.

I’m not the only one who has struggled with the hug dilemma in the professional world. As I thought about it more I realized it has to do with greeting other women. When I discuss handshakes in trainings, I often mention that many women were not taught how to or encouraged to shake hands. Whereas men are usually schooled in handshakes when they are young and it is an expected part of greeting and saying goodbye to others. Because of this, I think we women tend not to be as quick to shake hands in all situations.

Women also tend to show affection more easily so a hug seems more natural (I’m generalizing here as I do know there are many affectionate men out there). But, as I said, some people, including women, really do not like being hugged or feel uncomfortable being hugged in a professional setting or when they don’t know someone very well.

So, what’s a hugger to do? Well, my social gaffes aside, you will never go wrong with a handshake. It is professional and usually welcome. A hug on the other hand, should be saved for someone you know pretty well or who you know is comfortable with hugging, especially if you are a man. Man or woman, if you would like to hug, ask first.

And, if you are a non-hugger who wants to communicate no hugging, as you are meeting someone or they are approaching you, get your hand out right away so it’s clear you prefer to shake hands. If the hugger doesn’t get the message and goes in for the hug just go with it and be happy you are loved.

How do you feel about hugging in the workplace? If you are a woman, do you tend to hug women more than men? Does a handshake ever feel too impersonal with some people?


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Nate on November 8, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    I am a working professional who just moved to Hawaii a few months ago. Hugs are part of the culture and especially so in the organization I work for. Woman to woman, woman to man and man to man it is all part of the Aloha culture.

  2. Arden on December 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Thank you for commenting Nate. Yes, different cultures have different cultural norms. It’s important to go with what is appropriate for the culture you’re doing business with.

  3. Tonya Williams on August 6, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    Whether in the workplace or in a casual circumstance, I don’t think people should shake hands or hug people they just met or hardly know. Handshakes are the number 1 way to pass on disease – and as a woman, I find it uncomfortable to have a man I don’t know or barely know, hug me (and women shouldn’t either). We have language in the civilized world, is so we can use our words when greeting someone – no need to get physical. But after reading several websites on hugging and hand shaking, I can see why these mistakes happen – experts keep telling people that it’s ok to give people a handshake – that is not good information.

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