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Hugging Etiquette: The Dos and Don'ts of Showing Affection In the Workplace

02/18/2015 05:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015

Has the handshake become outdated? Not yet, but hugging, shoulder rubbing and whispering sweet nothings in women's ears seems to be Vice President Joe Biden's standard greeting these days.

This week Biden made the news when he swore in Ashton Carter, the country's new defense secretary. While Carter started talking to his audience Biden called Carter's wife, Stephanie, over, put his hands on her shoulders, leaned over and whispered something in her ear.

Hugging and touching someone, especially in a business setting, can oftentimes be misconstrued and lead to controversy or confusion.

Before you go in for the big hug, consider the following seven tips.

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 are 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. If you are sniffling because you are sick, stay home or keep your distance. Additionally, many people don't feel comfortable receiving a hug from someone who has been perspiring or working out.

Ask permission when you need or want to share a hug. When you ask permission, the receiver will feel respected and have an opportunity to voice his or her comfort level. Unless you know someone extremely well, it's best to ask, "May I give you a hug?"

Avoid awkward moments. If you greet a group of people and you know some members better than others, give your new acquaintances a handshake first and then follow with hugs for the people you know well. This way you won't have to guess if the new people are pro-huggers or anti-huggers, and you will show consideration for their boundaries.

Consider frequency and occasion. A hug and an air kiss may be in order if you haven't seen a co-worker or client for an extended period of time or if you are at a holiday party. A hug is not necessary if you see someone on a regular basis.

When in doubt, leave it out. If you're not sure if someone likes to hug, play it safe. You'll stay out of trouble and never go wrong with the good old-fashioned handshake.

For more etiquette tips, visit Jacqueline Whitmore's blog or "like" her Facebook page.