Years ago I had a job at a place where the staff was about half European and half American. This really brought into focus an obvious cultural difference – while the European staff members routinely greeted each other with a friendly hug, the Americans seemed to prefer a head-nod and a “Hey, whatsup”, maybe accompanied by a slapping handshake or a “bro hug”. Having a background in theater in dance, hugging comes kind of naturally to me, so I sort of bonded more with the Europeans than my fellow Americans. The experience really stayed with me though, because I’d regularly find myself in other settings, and forget the “appropriate” greeting, and feel like I was being a cold fish, when in fact the person I was greeting sensed nothing askew. As we all know, in some cultures, it’s even common for men to (gasp!) kiss each other on the face as they hug, and for people of both genders to serve up the “air kiss” or silent “mwah”. So if you’re from a background that makes you comfortable with the hug as a greeting, these ideas may seem downright childish. But if you’re a typical hug-fearing American, learning how to hug may totally Kick Your Ass in subtle ways.
You’ve probably heard that hugging can have basic health benefits related to lowering stress, but did you know it has also been linked to increased performance in sports ? If the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are any indication, apparently the touchiest teams may also be the best teams. But we don’t need scientific studies to tell us that hugs can have positive effects, heck, they just make you feel good. So why don’t we hug more often in the states? My hunch is that like many other things in our culture, the fear of hugging is rooted in all the repressed energies created by our culture’s puritanical roots. Like flirting – which in some cultures is a harmless and fun act that lightens the heart – hugging is perceived as some extreme form of intimacy, and somehow implies that other forms of intimacy must follow. And as a result, for some folks, a simple hug is perceived as an invasion of their space, or even an assault. So be mindful.
But why wait for the next National Hug Day to get started? Introducing more hugging into your life today can indeed kick your ass. First of all, it requires that you care enough about the people around you to want to build stronger bonds, but it also requires considerable sensitivity and social agility to avoid having exactly the opposite of the intended effect. That’s why, for fun, we’ve included a “Hugs 101” graphic below, as well as “Hug or Handshake?”, a clever strategy for avoiding the embarrassment that accompanies an unwanted hug, especially in a business setting. Click the images for a larger, more legible version.