To Hug or Not to Hug?

I’ve had several awkward moments greeting several different clients in the past few months, where the unspoken question for both of us has been, “To hug or not to hug?” The question seems to arise with clients who fall in two categories:

1 – Business friends – these are clients with whom I don’t necessarily socialize outside of work, but with whom I have established a relationship that’s far more than strictly business — a relationship marked by candor, warmth, genuine caring, and the easy exchange of personal as well as business information.

2 – Personal friends who have become clients – these are clients with whom I had a personal relationship long before we did any work together.

The dilemma arises when a handshake seems completely inauthentic because it’s too formal and distant, and yet a hug seems out of place in a business setting. So what usually results is a really awkward, jerky-movement thing, like two chickens in a barnyard – one of us sticks out our hand while the other moves in for a light embrace, then we both pull back and switch, trying to match the others’ first move.

Trusted Advisor work teaches us to seek intimacy — not fear it – through emotional connectedness with clients; to dare to show clients that we care about them and that we see them more as human beings than walking, talking revenue streams. And yet the question, “To hug or not to hug?” raises all kinds of ancillary questions. Such as:

-What if my client doesn’t like to hug anyone, let alone his or her consultant?

-Should the rules be different depending on whether my client is a man or a woman? The same gender or the opposite gender?

-What if someone else who is “outside” the relationship is there to witness (or be left out of) the hug?

-What is the equivalent dilemma in a country with different cultural norms, where hugging might be completely off the table but kissing might not?

-How much is too much? Where do we draw the line?

Your thoughts?

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