Is the Hug the New Handshake?

Rubio_and_Crist_huggingI’ve been noticing a trend lately: the business hug. At first I thought it was just an anomaly when a colleague, also a friend, hugged me at the beginning of an on-campus committee meeting. We were friends, and she asked permission first: “Can I give you a hug?” So of course I said, “Yes.” And it was nice to have some human contact at the beginning of a meeting. There’s some evidence to suggest that the “stress-buffering social support” of a hug can make one less susceptible to the common cold; hugs from loved ones trigger the release of oxytocin, which makes us feel happier. But hugs between coworkers?

I recently co-led an entrepreneurial artist workshop at The Heard Museum with a friend who is an artist and a colleague. I socialize with him regularly, so a hug as a greeting didn’t seem odd, and there were only a couple of people in the room. Enter the museum’s community engagement director whom I had only met once before: hugs all around. Throughout the day, I tried to remain neutral, neither putting out my hand for a handshake (as is my usual MO) nor opening my arms for a brief business-like embrace and sure enough, people, even people I had never met before, would approach me in “hug stance” – body slightly turned (the business hug is not full frontal) and arms slightly open, one higher than the other. Invited into a hug, it would be rude to refuse, right?

Last month, I had a one-on-one meeting with one of my university’s associate VP’s. We Funerary_stele_of_Thrasea_and_Euandria_Antikensammlung_Berlin_01had met briefly in large groups, but this was our first one-on-one. We ate an informal lunch (which we had each brought from home) over a conference table. At the end of the meeting, my colleague stood and rather than shaking my hand, said, “I feel like we should hug; let’s hug.” I felt a wee bit awkward, but hugged her anyway, since she invited me to. I survived. I doubt that I would have assented had this been a male colleague, and doubt that a male colleague would have approached me in this way without a third person in the room. I also doubt this exchange would have happened ten years ago.

My observation is that this trend may be generational; my hugging colleagues tend to be in their 30s (I am not). When I entered the workforce, there were many times when I would be the only woman in the room; hugging was most definitely uncommon.

Perhaps if we all hugged more, raising our oxytocin levels and triggering a dopamine response, we could less stressful, more productive meetings. But, as I would when working with a community of which I am not a member, when it comes to a hug, I won’t presume anything and instead participate only when invited in.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, including its award-winning arts entrepreneurship program, Pave: The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of ASU. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix and "like" the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship at Find Pave's journal, Artivate, at
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