Unwanted Hugs from Strangers
by Rick Brenner
Some of us have roles at work that expose us to unwanted hugs from people we don't know. After a while, this experience can be far worse than merely annoying. How can we deal with unwanted hugs from strangers?
As hugging gains increasing acceptance at work, two classes of unwanted hugs have become especially vexing. The first are unwanted hugs from well-meaning strangers. The second are ICBHs: Intercontinental Ballistic Hugs. ICBHs are usually delivered without warning, by people you might or might know, and who don't care one whit whether their hugs are welcome. I'll deal with ICBHs in a future issue.
The unwanted hug from a well-meaning stranger is problematic because the stranger means no harm. He or she probably wants to do what's expected, and simply misreads the situation. To avoid the awkward moment, we must make our preferences so clear that misreading becomes nearly impossible.
Here are three suggestions for deterring unwanted hugs by making your preferences clear. These tactics assume that you're meeting in an office or conference room. You might have to tailor these suggestions for other situations.
- Post a "Hug-Free Zone" sign
- You know, the word "Hugs" inside a red circle with a diagonal red line through it. Put it in a very prominent place. If people ask what the sign is about, you can refer them to the advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about swine flu prevention. By the way, this is quite serious medical advice, and it's probably good practice for anyone who deals with large numbers of strangers.
- Say your good-byes across a desk, table, or other obstacle
- When dealing with strangers, departure is For strangers, departure is
the moment of greatest
risk of unwanted hugsthe moment of greatest risk of unwanted hugs. By extending your hand for a handshake across a relatively insurmountable obstacle, such as a desk or conference room table, you effectively eliminate the hug as an option. In rare cases, your partner will sometimes try to walk around the obstacle for a hug despite your obvious reluctance. That's your cue to move in the other direction if you can. Choose your seat initially, or re-arrange your office furniture, to avoid being cornered.
- If meeting in your office, call for re-enforcements
- If you're meeting in your office privately, as for an interview, and you're coming to the end, refrain from indicating that the meeting is ending. Arrange in advance with your assistant or a colleague that you'll phone him or her with an appropriate code phrase such as "Hello Gene, OK." That's their cue to escort the visitor out, or to a next meeting as appropriate. Make the call while still seated, and let the arrival of your guest's escort be the first indication that the meeting is ending. Then stand, and say your good-byes across a desk or other obstacle.
The general principle here is that it's easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble — a useful approach in much of Life. I'll say good-bye now, without a hug. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Practice Positive Politics
- Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
- Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True
- Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a little too much.
- Reverse Micromanagement
- Micromanagement is too familiar to too many of us. Less familiar is inappropriate interference in the reverse direction — in the work of our supervisors or even higher in the chain. Disciplinary action isn't always helpful, especially when some of the causes of reverse micromanagement are organizational.
- The Advantages of Political Attack: Part I
- In workplace politics, attackers sometimes prevail even when the attacks are specious, and even when the attacker's job performance is substandard. Why are attacks so effective, and how can targets respond effectively?
- Deep Trouble and Getting Deeper
- Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're pretty sure there's no way out.
See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 4: Virtual Trips to Abilene
- One dysfunction of face-to-face meetings is the Trip to Abilene, which leads groups to make decisions no members actually support. It can afflict virtual meetings, too, even more easily. Available here and by RSS on March 4.
- And on March 11: Historical Debates at Work
- One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates. Available here and by RSS on March 11.
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