HR Strange But True!
July 20, 2006

Whether it's a co-worker or client, the issue is the same: You want to give a cordial greeting, but what does that mean? A handshake? A hug? A peck on the cheek?

That evolving area of office etiquette seems to be troubling more and more workers these days.

The Poughkeepsie Journal reports that anthropologists, psychologists, and business etiquette experts are puzzled by why American business people are becoming so touchy-feely.

"It's a situation fraught with ambiguity," Arthur B. Shostak, professor emeritus of sociology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told the Journal.

But others say that concerns are overblown. "I think the need to touch is a very basic one and be it hugs, kisses or a hand around the shoulder during conversation, someone needs to introduce some common sense into the social debate and tell people to lighten up," Shaheed Mohammed, who is teaching cultural communication at Marist College this summer, told the Journal.

Theories for the increase in office hugs and kisses range from the nation's growing multiculturalism to the increased presence of women in the workplace softening corporate culture and men's attitudes.

The handshake-kiss protocol is the question most frequently posed to Barbara Pachter, author of "When the Little Things Count ... and They Always Count: 601 Essential Things That Everyone in Business Needs to Know."

Similarly, the subject comes up at 8 of 10 seminars given by business etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey of Savannah, Georgia, author of "Manners That Sell."

"Almost always people say it's uncomfortable," Ramsey told the Journal. "It's an awkward moment and sometimes they end up planting a kiss in the air."

The issue is even more difficult for men, because if a man embraces a woman, it can be interpreted as sexual harassment.


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