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Default Hugger? The Complexities of Social Greetings.

Phil Bennett Posted by Phil Bennett in Social Strength 2 min read

Hold on tight (not literally); this one will be a little off-piste, but it has some vague relation to the workplace. But there’s been something on my mind for a while.

I’m not sure this is really a problem for anyone else, but as an introverted, slightly socially awkward, mostly heterosexual male social greetings fill me with all kinds of dread. Is this a handshake situation? Is a hug appropriate? Fist-bump? If it’s another man, do we need to do the ‘no-homo’ hug where we keep our fists as a barrier between us so our chests don’t actually touch and do the macho back slap thing? This is all before you add in the challenge of a miscommunication where one person goes for a handshake and the other a fist bump, and someone (always me) awkwardly shakes the other person’s fist. Then throw in a few cheek-kissing Mediterraneans and a big burly south USA bear hugger…. absolute minefield! 

Over the past few decades, this problem has leaked into the workplace. When I started working, there was no significant confusion. A handshake was the only acceptable form of workplace greeting. Everything was compartmentalised. The only challenge was choosing how firmly to grip the other person’s hand. 

However, two things have happened for the better. The workplace has become much more casual, and we understand that social connection is a critical factor in driving workplace engagement. 

The Gallop Q12, a popular survey for measuring engagement in workforces, actually asks the question, “On a scale of 1-10, how do you relate to the statement “I have a best friend at work?” and on a recent Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast Anna Sawyer, a Principal at Gallup exposed that it’s one of the key markers in the survey. 

So we no longer have a clear delineation between colleagues and friends. We do have friends in the workplace. This social greeting challenge is now at work. 

Default Hugger? Default Intent? 

The scale of this problem might be 100% isolated to being in my head, but I’ve recently been considering switching my approach to this problem. Taking a real Sledgehammer to crack a nut approach, I am considering becoming a “Default Hugger” In any greeting situation, I will automatically go in for a hug. 

But this creates an additional problem in the workplace. I’m a (lower) middle-aged white male, a grouping that has historically contained a small subsection that abused the concept of touch in a workplace environment. 

Being a member of this group, what would be other people’s assumption of my default intent? There is a high chance that some people would not consider my default hug stance a benign attempt to solve this complicated social greeting problem. 

But “default handshake” feels so corporate and 1990s. Alternatively, I could start signposting a hug attempt and asking for consent—this feels like the “Right” thing to do, but also an equally awkward approach. 

Probably going to stick to fist-bumps but with signalling it by shouting “FIST BUMP!” out loud to make sure everyone is clear on the protocol.…. am I the only person with this problem?

If not, how do you solve this? 😅