The handshake. The hug. The fist bump. The pat on the back. The kiss on each cheek that’s so common in other cultures. That’s a lot of touchy-feely behavior to contend with, especially if you’re not entirely comfortable with physical contact outside your nearest and dearest.
In an age where new viruses and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are constantly emerging… at a time when sexual harassment training is mandated for businesses in nearly every state… within a culture that increasingly relies on electronic and remote communication instead of face-to-face encounters, isn’t it interesting that so many forms of touch are accepted, tolerated and even, in some cases, expected?
There really isn’t a graceful way to decline these gestures. You run into a colleague you haven’t seen in a while and suddenly there’s nowhere else to go but into the expectant hug that’s formed in front of you. You walk into a meeting with complete strangers and have no choice but to reciprocate once a hand has been outstretched for a firm shake. There’s nowhere to go when your back’s being patted… These invitations to connect leave no room for escape.
Sure, you could hold back by halfheartedly hugging or limply shaking or barely grazing knuckles… But those partial pullbacks are no less uncomfortable for you. At best, they might cause the initiator to think twice before a physical contact is made again. Meanwhile, you’re left feeling encroached upon, perhaps even mildly violated.
You do have some options for controlling these situations in order to ease your own discomfort.
- You can refuse the gesture. Doing so in a direct and confident way is essential. Simply say “No offense, but I’m not a really a hugger,” or “I prefer to shake hands rather than kiss.” If you do this with warm eye contact and continue conversationally engaging, this will not seem rude or offensive.
- You can decide to accept others’ gestures without reservation, understanding that these are meant as expressions of interest in, respect for or acknowledgement of you. Accepting the intent does make it easier to accept the gesture comfortably.
- You can choose a strong offense as a good defense. If you don’t wish to be hugged, put your hand out first to signal that a handshake is how you will be connecting in this moment. If you don’t want a handshake, keep your hands full. Take control by being prepared in a situation to look available only for what you are comfortable with.
Let it be okay for others to initiate and reciprocate as they choose. And make it okay for yourself, too, to comfortably engage (or not) in physical contact.
As a leader, it’s imperative to understand why and how to show ever person that you care about them. Learn more about how you can CONNECT2Lead. And be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog for weekly tips and techniques on leading with a people first approach.