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Why I Give Everyone Hugs -- Even Clients

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People who know me know I’m a hugger.


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It’s not like I’ve been hugging people my entire life. No, hugging actually started my sophomore year in college. We had such a close-knit group of friends that we just always hugged when we greeted one other. And when we were leaving one other. And, sometimes in between.

Everybody hugged. I can remember a few close friends who were particularly good huggers. They’d give the kind of hug that's like instant therapy: As soon as they gave you a squeeze, you knew who you were!

Well I took that right into my first job at Carnation, into grad school at Columbia and then right into my career. And I’ve been hugging ever since.

If I’ve known you for a while, but we’ve never met in person, then you’re going to get a hug the first time we meet IRL (in real life). If you’re a friend of a good friend, then you’re going to get a hug. If you’re a colleague, and we work closely together, then we're going to hug then, too.

Clients also get hugs, especially if they're people I've been working together with, or if we’ve just had a good working session. I don’t care if you’re male or female; you’re getting a hug. Well, maybe not everyone every time, but you get the point.

I’m a hugger.

Of course, I’ve come to learn that hugging is not always acceptable in every culture. My British colleagues are quick to tell me that they aren’t huggers. I’m told that in Asia it’s hard to hug colleagues who have more seniority. And while I try to be culturally sensitive in all other respects -- and enjoy learning about and respecting local cultures -- if you are working with me, you are eventually going to get a hug.

It’s who I am.

For friends and family, and friends and family of friends and family, a hug says you are part of my family. A hug says "C’mon in," whether we know each other well or not. A hug brings people closer and breaks the ice. And it celebrates the moment.

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As for work, as odd as this may sound, a hug de-personalizes work situations in a flash. I guess nothing can be more personal than body contact, but for me a hug says, “This isn’t about you or me individually; it’s about us as a team.”

After a discussion in which you've been given feedback, especially tough feedback, a hug says that those comments weren’t personal. It says that those comments are just business and that it’s my job to give you that feedback.

After a big win, a hug says that no one individual is responsible because it’s the team that won. And when you give someone a compliment because you’ve enjoyed working with him or her, a hug says, "Let’s do more business together." While hugs are inherently personal, a hug at work is actually more about the business and the team than it is about any one person.

Now, this doesn’t mean that everyone has to suddenly become a hugger. Hugs are just something that works for me. You should find your own way to communicate to people that you enjoy being with them and that you want them to be a part of what you are all about.

For some, the answer may be a firm handshake, a fist-bump, an elbow squeeze or a double-sided kiss on the cheeks. Whatever works for you, works.

But, if we were together right now, we’d be hugging it out at the end.

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