When Vice President Joe Biden swore in Ash Carter, the country’s new defense secretary, this weekend, he committed a big etiquette no-no when he called Carter’s wife, Stephanie, over and put both hands on her shoulders, stepped closer to her and whispered something in her ear. Was Biden’s public display of affection appropriate?
Author and etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, says he got too close for comfort. “Hugging and touching someone in a business setting can oftentimes be misconstrued and lead to controversy or confusion,” she says.
Before you go in for the big hug, Whitmore offers the following seven tips:
— Always respect another person’s space. An individual’s family background, culture, age and gender play a major role in the acceptance or displeasure of a hug. Usually, like a kiss, you can tell from a person’s body language if they are willing to receive a hug or not.
— Follow the three-second rule. Keep the hug short and avoid placing your arm too low around the other person. Longer hugs have a certain connotation and could have negative repercussions if a co-worker’s spouse or significant other is present.
— Pass the sniff test. If you are sniffling because you are sick, stay home or keep your distance. Additionally, many people don’t feel comfortable receiving a hug from someone who has been perspiring or working out.
— Ask permission when you need or want to share a hug. When you ask permission, the receiver will feel respected and have an opportunity to voice his or her comfort level. Unless you know someone extremely well, it’s best to ask, “May I give you a hug?”
— Avoid awkward moments. If you greet a group of people and you know some members better than others, give your new acquaintances a handshake first and then follow with hugs for the people you know well. This way you won’t have to guess if the new people are pro-huggers or anti-huggers, and you will show consideration for their boundaries.
— Consider frequency and occasion. A hug and an air kiss may be in order if you haven’t seen a co-worker or client for an extended period of time or if you are at a holiday party. A hug is not necessary if you see someone on a regular basis.
— When in doubt, leave it out. If you’re not sure if someone likes to hug, play it safe. You’ll never go wrong with the good old-fashioned handshake.