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Don’t assume you know your colleagues’ boundaries

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in Your Office Coach

Question: "What’s the current view on the appropriateness of hugging at work? On television, I frequently see politicians hugging staff members or celebrities hugging their colleagues. This makes me wonder about proper workplace etiquette. What’s your advice?"  Uncertain

Answer: As a general rule, physical contact with co-workers should be avoided. Apart from potential legal issues, you never know when someone may take offense. While some people are natural huggers and patters, others really do not like being touched. When these types work together, misunderstandings can easily occur.

This hands-off principle is especially important for managers, because employees may feel compelled to tolerate unwanted advances from their boss. When your position gives you power over people, you must be careful not to violate their personal boundaries. Also, companies are legally liable for the actions of their supervisors.

On the other hand, close colleagues with longstanding relationships don’t need to feel paranoid about exchanging a friendly hug or pat on the back. Reasonable people should be able to distinguish unwelcome overtures from genuine expressions of mutual affection.  
Based on the email complaints in our inbox, here are a few other behaviors to avoid at work: The Top Twelve Unprofessional Behaviors.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Teri January 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I have found that hugging has become more the rule rather than the exception in social (and business social) situations. Honestly, I would be much more comfortable with a handshake in both environments. However, I have opened myself to what seems to be the “common practice” because I’ve found that I make others uncomfortable when offering my hand when they expect a hug. Part of my attitude may be from having moved years ago from Canada to the US and making cultural adjustments to adapt.


Melanie January 22, 2013 at 11:54 am

I haven’t been in any business situations where associates have hugged me. It is not a common practice here. I would not like it if casual business acquaintances hugged me.


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