Professional NFL Cheerleaders

Hugs, like a great cigar, can make good times better and bad times not so bad.  Of course this all depends on who is giving the hug, who is watching and the grope factor.  With that in mind, I thought I would try and put together the HRNasty guide to “Hugs in the Workplace”.   The workplace is becoming the new melting pot.  With so many different cultures, age groups and demographics entering the workplace, the rules are becoming re written and the lawyers are making the money reading the unwritten and massaging the definition of HWE.

What makes me an expert on hugs in the workplace?  It isn’t my years of experience in HR.  It’s not the multiple work environments I have practiced HR ranging from small start up to Fortune corporate environments.  It isn’t the multiple classes I have taken to become certified to facilitate sensitivity training or the 35+ classes I have led on the topic.  Quite simply it is my experience.  I am qualified because I went through the full cycle of NOT knowing what a hug was to being a guy that will initiate and own this simple gesture of friendship.

The HRNasty experience:

I grew up in a stoic home.  No PDA, no hugging, no touching, flatline.  Formal and un-emotional.  When I brought my very outgoing wife (then girlfriend) home for the first time, right there on the front porch, we had one last run through on the rules of engagement when interacting with my parents:

  • “Do NOT address my parents by their first name.”
  • “Do NOT help yourself to a Coke from the refrigerator.”
  • “Under NO circumstances do you hug anyone.”

Notice the above are not requests.  We step into the front entryway, my parents come down to greet us and their first impression of future Mrs. HRNasty is a “Hello Johnny, Hello Suzy” calling both parents by their first name followed by a full- on “wrap the arms around you hugs” for both.  OM-effin-G!!  Mr. and Mrs. Nasty Parental Units were not feeling the love and I made a move to protect the refrigerator door.

My wife comes from a very demonstrative family and most of her friends are the same way.  I come from a home that is very “NOT” demonstrative and most of my friends are the same way.  In some circles, we would be classified as Vulcans and my father would take that as a compliment.

When my wife and I were dating, she introduced me to her best friend and co-worker.  This friend is as hot as they come.  Ex NFL cheerleader, aerobic instructor with a huge smile and a genuine big heart.  When my wife introduced us, I made the move to extend my hand in friendship.  She moved in and gave me one of those “I heard so many great things about you, I feel like I know you” full-embrace-hugs and a kiss on the cheek” hugs.  Being the stoic warrior that I was, not expecting physical contact or knowing how to take advantage of the situation, my hands were by my side trapped by her embrace.  I wasn’t exactly mortified. . .I was in that half way point between “uhh, what are you doing touching me?” and “I wish my guy friends could see this, will someone take a picture of us dammit?”

That missed opportunity got me thinking and I feel like I have come a long way since.

A list of your typical hugs in the workplace:

Bro Hugs:

Shoulder height handshake between two heterosexual men with an arm wrestling grip between right hands.  Both men pull each other into their personal space, touch upper bodies, bring their left hands around to complete the embrace on the other mans back and then short hold.  Can be followed by two pats on the back, which stands for “not gay”.  Three pats on the back with the left hand is Morse code for “I’m not gay”.   Pats are usually robust and loud, as if wanting to specifically convey the message loud and clear.

Bro Hugs V.2

Same as above with a body lean into the other mans personal space.  Upper bodies will just touch for a split second to recognize the connection and then the softly spoken “whus up?” or a “good to see you”.  No Morse code pats needed here, just a quick lean-in and a lean-out.  Pats on the back are either non existent or subtle and not homophobic.  This is perfectly acceptable in the workplace.

Note for the both Bro Hugs; under no circumstances should any man gently place his head on the other mans shoulder or bosom.  This pushes the “unacceptable” hugs in the workplace envelope.

“up high” in victory and “down low” with flourish

These Professional Fly Fishing anglers can be seen here on the Evolution Anglers Blog

Up High, Down Low  (technically not a hug, but the same feeling of brotherhood and camaraderie is communicated)

I was with some fellow Fly Fishing bums and two guys who will take a bullet for each other got out of their trucks and instead of the usual handshake, they pulled off the “Up High, Down Low” from Scrubs.  This is not a move for amateurs.  Up High, they bumped chests in the normal “I just slam dunked on you biatch” fashion that two team mates will share in an emotional victorious moment.  The Coue de tat was a PeeWee Herman – esqe dance move, a coordinated single thrusting of their pelvises forward, towards each other.  (There was no sword crossing or physical contact.)  Probably not appropriate in mixed company, and I wouldn’t recommend this type of hug in the workplace, but amongst a couple of fly fishing guides that live extreme outdoor lifestyles, I don’t think their brotherhood could have been communicated more effectively.  Yes, I did feel left out.

Comraderie team hug

Looks more like a Rugby scrum, but typically used pre-game when a basketball team huddles up and rocks side to side in unison.  Usually performed impromptu to loud music and flashing lights and high levels of adrenaline.  All of the players are bent forward at the waist and they sway from left to right as a strong unified team.  This one is fun to watch done well and will get you fired up.

“Lets hug it out Bitch”

Ari from the HBO TV Series Entourage uses this classic line to make the transition from a serious moment to a lighthearted moment.  Usually implemented when putting Eric or Turtle down and then transitioned to “making up”.  Probably not appropriate in at work setting, considering Ari – although the epitome of a corporate hustler and a personal hero, is the poster boy for a HWE or Hostile Work Environment.

Credibility Hug:

I was recommended to a position and was going to be interviewing with someone that had no connection or history with.  I was introduced to the hiring exec and we greeted each other with a formal business handshake.  An attractive blond, and very outgoing employee literally ran up and shouted “HRNastyyyyyy” and gave me a big hug right in front of the C level hiring exec.  For me, it was pretty awkward, but the hiring manager said. . . wow, it is going to be very hard to decline anyone with a relationship like that in this company’.  She instantly gave me cred.  If you fit the above description (blond, hot and outgoing), perfectly acceptable with me in the workplace.  When I say perfectly acceptable with “me”, it is assumed I am the one receiving the hug, because I am going to gain the credibility.  The loop hole in this example was that I wasn’t technically working at this company yet, I was in the interview stage.  Offer was graciously accepted and hugs in the workplace stopped.


Person that is saving a life moves behind the choking person and hugs them from behind in an attempt to dislodge the day old donut that was scavenged from the marketing department.  Perfectly acceptable as long as the one getting hugged is truly on the verge of tapping out.

As a guy in HR, I am probably more conscious of physical contact than a hypochondriac in a daycare.  All that being said, there is nothing worse than the awkward hug.  The one where you try to do the right thing and stick your hand out and at the same time your counterpart leans in for the hug.

Solution 1:

If you think there is going to be a hug then lean in with confidence and act like the hot NFL cheerleader.  Own it.

Still have questions on what is acceptable and what is not?  When it doubt. . . handshake it out.  Fortune 100 company?  Handshake.  Future mother in law?  Handshake baby. . . just make sure to look them in the eye, smile and own it.

See you at the After Party,


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something.  “He has a nasty forkball”.

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