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05/20/2013 06:25 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2013

Women Hugging At Work: Do We Need To Start Embracing The Handshake?

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To hug or not to hug (a co-worker)? That is the question posed by tech journalist Shane Snow and The Grindstone's Ruth Graham.

In a post for Medium, Snow articulates the anxiety he feels when navigating the handshake or hug conundrum with female colleagues (because apparently every man he knows only shakes hands with other men):

With females, I feel like I'm trapped between two walls of a deep-space garbage compactor. On the first meeting, we shake hands. Easy. But the next time we cross paths? Is a handshake now too formal (especially if we got along well in the first meeting)? Will a hug be awkward? What if the answer to both is "yes"?! Maybe I am taking too long to react to her "hello" and am starting to look like a robot. Maybe my mental hug-or-handshake calculation is manifesting in a frightening way on my face. Maybe I have something in my teeth. Maybe I should pull the fire alarm, so I can get out of here.

Graham agrees that this is a "legit" issue in the workplace and suggests that women issue a cease-and-desist order on their own hugging impulses and stick to handshakes only. "Shaking hands is more professional, it's a more clearly understood gesture, and it's an easier move," she writes.

This situation definitely comes up every once in a while -- I personally have been on the receiving end of a super awkward hug from an older male colleague. But is it such an issue that we need to issue a unilateral directive instructing all women to interact with all coworkers in a particular way?

Office culture is highly variable. In a formal work environment, etiquette may require less demonstrative greetings. But when you work in an industry that requires long hours and at a company that encourages office bonding, you're bound to create connections that extend beyond your desk. Some of my co-workers are also my very close friends. And when I greet them or say goodbye to them, it's often with a hug. (Personally I'd find it very awkward to continuously shake hands with people I already know.) Thus far, it hasn't caused any catastrophes or panic attacks.

Also, Graham puts the responsibility on women to "fully embrace the handshake." I'm not sure that makes sense. First of all, the nervousness about appearing too friendly primarily exists between men and women -- not between women who work together. And like most situations in life, people's comfort levels and expectations vary. So if Snow is really concerned about "inflicting awkwardness" on the women he works with, maybe he should let them take the lead and decide whether to go in for a hug or a handshake.

Plus, if you feel really conflicted about the handshake vs. hug situation, simply don't touch your colleague at all. Often a sincere, "Hey, it's really great to see you again" will suffice -- no flailing limbs involved.

What do you think? Is this a real issue in your office?

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