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Lean in: A guide to the new hugging etiquette

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 07/12/2018 Susannah Butter
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For some, a simple “hello” suffices. Others will use anything as an excuse to wrap their arms around anyone and give them a hug. Hug advocates say it releases oxytocin, a hormone that increases feelings of attachment and reduces stress.

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But hugs are out this week as the founder of Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin, is accused of forcing them on his staff — it’s part of a claim of alleged harassment against him.

Even at the more benign end of the spectrum, hugs are divisive. The hugphobic dread Christmas party season, as do germophobes — one party might think they are being affectionate, the other sees the hug as high-risk, exposing them to a hotbed of disease. Lean in: here are the new rules of physical contact.

Know your audience

That means not hugging your boss or employees (unless you work in the theatre). People you’ve just met are an unknown quantity — do a quick assessment of the room and judge. If there’s a culture of hugging, you will look frosty if you just extend a handshake, while unless you’re Barack Obama fist- bumping is hard to pull off. And if someone clearly hates hugs (arms tightly folded in a barrier, eyes willing you not to approach), it’s not up to you to convince them. If you are so needy that you must hug and be hugged all the time, just get a dog and stop inflicting yourself on unwilling participants. You are the reason people don’t like hugs.

Do hug back

Weak hugs are like weak handshakes — a sign you’re insipid. But don’t go the other way — bear hugs are best saved for bears. 

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Timing is everything

Just because you’re hugging, it doesn’t mean you have to be attached to each other for ever. Anything longer than three seconds and your fellow participant will question your intentions. And be warned — three seconds is longer than you think.

Don’t speak

The physical contact is enough, you don’t need to crack a joke to justify your behaviour — the other person probably won’t hear you anyway.

Keep it simple

It’s a hug, not an excuse to smell the other person’s hair, snog their cheek or try to read the label on their jumper so you can buy the same one. If you must do a power pat to show you are the instigator, be gentle — and don’t pat your boss. Back hugs, where you ambush someone from behind, are sneaky and never acceptable.

Height issues

If the other person is significantly taller or smaller, hugging may be more challenging. Don’t make a joke about bending down or stretching your arms out.

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Just do it

If you must go for the hug, do it with confidence. Stumbling is awkward for everyone and can in worst-case scenarios lead to injury — one person goes for the hug, the other isn’t expecting it, they bash cheeks. Then they’ll be put off hugs for life.

Watch: How to deal with a lazy co-worker [Buzz60]

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