June 16th, 2009

The Dos and Don’ts of Hugging Etiquette

by Jacqueline Whitmore

By Jorie Scholnik, Guest Blogger

Is saying hello and giving a handshake outdated? Not yet, but apparently hugging seems to be the latest trend and is taking over as a standard greeting among the younger set. Hugging, typically viewed as a sign of affection, and has sparked much debate in schools across the country. In fact, hugging is so popular in some high schools that officials have banned this gesture of affection or imposed the three-second rule.

It’s amazing how something so innocuous can divide the world into categories: pro-huggers and anti-huggers. Before you quickly place yourself on either side, remember that hugging is a personal choice that varies from person to person. Therefore, especially when in the business world, consider the following dos and don’ts of hugging before you go in for a big one.

Always respect another person’s space. An individual’s family background, culture, age and gender play a major role in the acceptance or displeasure of a hug. Usually, like a kiss, you can tell from a person’s body language if they would be willing to receive a hug or not.

Follow the three-second rule. Keep the hug short and avoid placing your arm too low around the other person. Longer hugs have a certain connotation and could have negative repercussions if a co-worker’s spouse or significant other is present.

Pass the sniff test. By sniff, I mean sniffles and smell. If you are sniffling because you are sick, the other person will appreciate not catching your cold. Additionally, if you just finished working out or are perspiring, it may not be the best time for a bear hug. No one enjoys a hug from someone who reeks of alcohol.

Ask permission when you need or want to share a hug. If you ask permission, the receiver will feel respected and have an opportunity to voice their comfort level. It is especially important to ask before you give a giant bear hug to your boss, client or new employee. In these situations, you may want to opt for the age-old handshake. In fact, if you have to ask, you probably shouldn’t do it.

Avoid awkward moments. If you are with a group of people and you know some people better than others, give your new acquaintances a handshake first and then follow with hugs for those you know well. Therefore, you won’t have to guess if your new acquaintances are pro-huggers or anti-huggers. Always be considerate of other’s boundaries.

Consider frequency and occasion. There may be more appropriate occasions for a hug such as when you haven’t seen a co-worker for an extended period of time or if you’re at a holiday party. A hug is not necessary if you see a co-worker on a regular basis.

Jorie Scholnik is currently pursuing her masters and specialist degrees in Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Counseling at the University of Florida. She has been interning seasonally at the Protocol School of Palm Beach since June 2006.

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10 Responses to “The Dos and Don’ts of Hugging Etiquette”

  1. Mimi on February 11th, 2010 2:21 pm


    My husband’s business partner gives me the ‘European’ kiss – both cheeks – every time we meet. The problem is, he really makes me uncomfortable and I don’t want him touching me at all. How do I politely stop him from doing this?
    I don’t want to embarrass him or myself, especially in front of others. I’ve thought of telling him I’m sick, but that would probably only work once. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

  2. Jacqueline Whitmore on February 12th, 2010 1:41 pm

    Mimi, if your husband’s business partner is European, this is simply his way of greeting you — nothing more, nothing less. If you think he is only doing this to appear savoir faire, then you might want to extend your hand before he approaches you with the double kiss.

  3. Scott on July 13th, 2011 2:27 am

    When hugging, does “patting” someone on the back at the same time have a certain assumption? Like if you do it does it mean “just friends” or is it still appropriate when hugging someone you care deeply about?

  4. Jamie on October 28th, 2011 2:09 pm

    I would like to know if it would be considered rude or offensive if there are three people and you kiss 2 on the cheeck but the third you hug. Out of the three, you are closest to the one you are hugging. Is that person overreacting of they feel hurt/offended for not being kissed on the cheeck like the others? Thank you.

  5. Jacqueline on October 28th, 2011 9:17 pm

    Hi Jamie, next time I would hug AND kiss that person on the cheek to avoid any hurt feelings.

  6. Karin Shaw on October 9th, 2012 9:35 pm

    A female acquintance of my husband gave him a dancefloor hug she stood on her tippy toes and out her arms around his neck giving him a full body embrace. It looked like two lovers. I felt that is was not an appropraite hug a brief hug with some body space and arms around thier waist would have been better. What do you think?

  7. Jacqueline on October 12th, 2012 12:36 am

    Dear Ms. Shaw,

    If you were uncomfortable with this display of affection, I can understand (unless you know this female acquaintance very well and her intentions.) Just know that jealousy can kill a relationship if you’re not careful. If this is a regular occurrence, you may need to address this with the female and your husband.

  8. Maritzio Fabruzico on October 25th, 2012 1:14 am

    Why do you people have so many issues about being touched. Honestly dont be such a puritan and scared of the world. Only in the US are you worried about crap like being hugged.

  9. Dorothy on January 8th, 2018 12:10 am

    I have another thought. Is there a rule whether you should go to your left of the of the person you are about to hug? I tend to go to the right but
    some go opposite causing a bit of awkwardness. What do you say?

  10. Jacqueline Whitmore on January 8th, 2018 9:24 am

    Hi Dorothy, always start with the right side when going in for a hug or air kiss. Cheers! Jacqueline

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