10 November 2008

Touch Me Not

I don't usually write about work, but today I'm going to write about a workplace situation.

I'm not a very touchy-feely kind of a person. I take an interest in my co-workers, but try to keep a safe and appropriate distance. Obviously, there are some co-workers that I know better than others and might be more willing to share personal information with. I'm not a loner, nor do I shy away from interactions from people.

But, I'm not a very physically demonstrative person. I don't greet my friends with hugs. The two-sided air kiss isn't something that you see here in the Midwest, although I've seen friends of mine do this in NYC. When I was first beginning my career, I learned how to have a 'serious' handshake -- one that wasn't too girly, nor too harsh. I struck me then that it was a silly thing to have to study, but I think that many people need to, especially women. Maybe that is changing with younger women, but when I first started working, it was still considered optional for women to shake hands.

Perhaps I'm a bit of a germaphobe, but I really don't like shaking hands. I frequently want to grab the bottle of hand sanitizer. But, it's a necessity in the business world.

So here is a situation I experienced last week. I flew to one of my employers offices on the East Coast for a meeting with members of four different functional areas. Everybody in the room knew each other because they work together on a daily basis. I was the only person in the room who didn't deal with everybody else regularly. In fact, I didn't know half of the individuals in the room.

So, imagine my surprise when I walked in with the two colleagues who traveled with me and was greeted by the meeting leader -- with a hug!

She had been seated and on the phone when we walked in. We had each taken our seats at the conference table. There was a mess of cables & power cords near where she sat. I honestly thought that she was about to fall as she leaned towards me. Naturally, I started to roll my chair away, in an obvious enough way that she said: I'm trying to hug you.

That I never expected. We all got hugs and acted cheery and glad to be there. At the end of the day, there were hugs all around too, and wishes for safe travel. I understand that she was trying to be friendly and that she is a demonstrative person. I appreciate the 'have a good flight' sentiment at departure. But a hug hello & goodbye? I think everybody gets this type of greeting. I think this is very weird.

How would you have reacted? What is the appropriate way to graciously deny a hug? Am I just wound too tight? Too much of a touch-me-not? I don't think that a man could get away with this. Her boss does handshakes or fist bumps, but I don't see him slapping his high-performers on the backside or exchanging hugs. What do you think?


Courtney said...

hmmm. I actually tend to be physically demonstrative - my boss hugs me all the time, actually, and I kiss my friends on the cheek, but I generally don't have the impulse to hug strangers. I think I would find it quite off-putting, especially if it were people I had never met before.Yes, I think the hugging was weird...and I agree about the handshake - I like to think of mine is firm, yet manicured...

Ted said...

Well, I come from the opera. People don't only hug and kiss each other constantly, they don't even mean it AND they simultaneously make sounds like "ooooooooooh" in very high voices decending the scale, "it's sooooo nice to see you!" But it's easy to get out of in the opera. If you don't want to be hugged by someone, you just tell them you are coming down with a cold, they are instantly 20 feet away.

(un)relaxeddad said...

Hugging is definitely weird unless you really know the people involved. As for dealing with uninvited hugs from East Coasters, I just tell them I'm English. That generally sorts it.

Emily Barton said...

I work for a very huggy, touchy-feely company, but even we don't hug people we don't know well. I'd find that awfully strange. (As a matter of fact, I'm not really a very huggy person myself and have had to work at it over the years. My college roommate helped me a lot in that regard.) And as far as handshakes go, I am very picky. I can't stand a wimpy, blobby handshake. I also don't like to feel as though all the bones in my hand are going to break. It has to be just-right.

P.S. On Saturday, though. I won't mind if you give me a hug. I feel as if we're already very good friends.

Cam said...

Courtney, Interesting that you exchange hugs with your boss. Maybe people in healthcare are more demonstrative and aware of touching? Although when I worked in a hospital I was always afraid that a few of the nurses would deck me if they caught me in the parking lot after dark. (I wasn't very popular there!)

Ted -- I love your description of the phoney greetings. Just another chance to practice the scales, perhaps?

UnRelaxed - If only I could use the 'No hugs, I'm British' line.

Emily - so is it an East Coast thing? This was in Boston, but my company's other offices are in Jersey. More likely to get a Bronx cheer there. But my friends across the Hudson definitely do the 2-check air kiss which I have never quite perfected.

I haven't asked those who travel to our European offices if the air kiss greeting is used.

Funny that I actually hugged one person before 9am today (not at work though) and was tempted to hug someone at work (a co-worker I am friendly with) who looked like she needed a hug, but I never would have!

Dorothy W. said...

I'm not a touchy person either. What I can't stand, though, is the uncertainty of the thing -- trying to figure out what somebody else expects so things don't get awkward. That hug you had was definitely odd! Even touchy people agree about that one ... Where I grew up (western NY), people kissed each other on the cheek now and then, but mostly they didn't, so I'm still not used to the fact that around here people do it all the time.