To hug or not to hug? Question from a reader.
Sarah, one of my readers, wanted my advice.
“My company skews heavily male, including all the co-founders. I've had zero negative experience being one of the few women on the team, but I have been running into this awkward dilemma. Handshake or hug coworkers?
Handshakes feel impersonal or forced, especially as a woman. But hugs can seem too personal or unprofessional, especially with male colleagues. The situation comes up a lot: when someone is leaving for or returning from a long trip, or when parting ways after a fun team event.
Not sure if anyone else has raised this question to you before—it may just be my social anxieties—but I’m curious to hear your opinion on what's normal.”
I have a bit of a confession to make. I don’t hug. Well, I do, but rarely. So much so that when I do hug most of my friends will say something like, “Oooh! I got a hug.” They all seem to derive much pleasure in teasing me about it. I’ve learned to accept it with a smile.
I blame this unique trait on my British upbringing.
Now, you’re probably guessing at my advice to Sarah was “Handshakes!” Here’s the gist of what I told her:
“Actually, it’s not about what’s normal, or what you want. It’s about what they want.”
I can hear you all saying, “But Joanna, don’t you always tell people to be themselves? Shouldn’t Sarah figure out how to be her hugging self?”
Well yes and no.
No - because while everything about you IS you, what’s important is how people react TO you.
Yes - because being consistent with who you are, makes it easier for people to understand who they’re dealing with.
Huh, you say? Stay with me. I’ll unpack that answer for you and use myself as a bit of an example.
My work is about seeing and amplifying the individual. The work I do is all about them. However for me to learn about them I have to be consistent with who I am. People need to be able to quickly tell if they should say “Yes!” to my brain time.
For example, I’m known for being the kind of coach that puts a virtual hand at your back and says, “I’ve got you. You’re safe here. I believe in you,” but then also gives you a push when I know you’re ready. I will openly admit that some of my friends say, “Unless you’re ready for a swift kick in the butt, don’t call Joanna.”
So, if you’re looking for help that always drives towards in enthusiastic action, then I’m 100% your gal. If you need someone who’ll hug you and say, “It’s ok to wait,” someone else might be a better option.
Because again, it’s about you and what you want. Here’s where it gets tricky. I don’t always know if the listener needs or wants my style. And if I push my style of coaching on then I’m pretty confident I’ll have an unhappy client.
An unhappy client is the same as an unhappy team member.
So how do you find out? Well, the other thing that happened right around Sarah’s email was a cute-as-a-button video. It showed a kindergarten teacher who created a “Good morning” board for her students? As they entered her classroom they would choose how they would like to say hello. Options included a high five, a little dance or a hug. It’s seriously one of the most adorable and empowering things I’ve seen in a while. (Go teachers!)
What I love about the approach is the agency it gives these little kids. The teacher sets the menu, but THEY get to choose how to start their day. As coaches, mentors, and leaders shouldn’t we all offer the “Welcome” options for those engaging with us?
Which is why I’ve started to ask people which of me they need:
Kind Ass-Kicker Joanna (aka “I know I need to do something and we need a plan”)
Modern Fairy Godmother Joanna (aka “I can’t see how awesome I am and need to find my magic”)
Chief Belief Officer Joanna (aka “I’m thoroughly convinced I can’t do a thing and need you to remind me that I absolutely can”)
Mirror, Mirror Joanna (aka “I know there’s something awesome about me, but I can’t articulate it”)
Ladybadass Joanna (I don’t think this one needs an aka, do you?)
Each of these personalities is 100% me. But depending on what you choose, I’ll show up for you in a very different way. A high five, a silly dance, and yes sometimes even a hug.
So back to Sarah’s question. As I said before, it isn’t about what’s normal; it’s about what she wants. So “To hug or not to hug?” isn’t the real question. What I want her to ask instead is, “What do I give that’s totally me and also allows the other person to fully be them?”
Now let's talk about you, my awesome friend.
I’ve given you my four coaching personalities. What are yours?
What are the different but equally authentic ways you show up in the world? How can you offer them as “menu options” to the people you interact with—so they can receive the version of you they most want and need?
I can’t wait for you to share your answers with me.
PS. Do you have a dilemma of your own, a problem you keep running into and don’t know what to do about? Drop me a line. I love it when readers send me questions.