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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See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 29: Quips That Work at Work: Part II
- Humor, used effectively, can defuse tense situations. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for using humor to defuse tension and bring confrontations, meetings, and conversations back to a place where thinking can resume. Available here and by RSS on April 29.
- And on May 6: Compulsive Talkers at Work:Part I
- Incessant, unending talking about things that the listener doesn't care about, already knows about, or can do nothing about is an irritating behavior that harms both talker and listener. What can we do about this? Available here and by RSS on May 6.
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