Huggers. Every office has them. Huggers are blissfully unaware of personal boundaries. They greet you with a hug. They say good bye with a hug. They use hugs to celebrate the rise and fall of the sun. I believe, if huggers had their way, meetings would end with a big group squeeze. They mean well. For a hugger, hugs are a form of communication; something much more personal than a handshake or saying, “have a good weekend”.
I am anti-hugging in the workplace. As a non-hugger, I make every effort to maintain my personal space. I need a cushion of at least 5 feet in front and behind me, and 3 feet on both sides. Exceptions can be made if there is a large object, a desk for example, between myself and the other person. This isn’t always possible. This can become a problem in an office setting. I’ve spent most of my professional career in a cubicle in close proximity to other people. Cubicle seating is not known for affording such a luxurious amount of space.
To avoid injuring anyone’s feelings, especially at work, I do try and be discreet with my discomfort. To the educated eye, there are tell-tale signs that the other person is waaay too close. I begin folding in on myself. My stomach sinks inward. I cross my arms and legs. I shrink down in my chair. If the trespasser is coming at me from the side, I lean in the opposite direction. Finally, after contorting myself into a knot, I admit defeat and roll my chair back to a comfortable distance.
Quite simply, if I am not married to you, related to you, or very, very, good friends with you, I do not want to hug you. I don’t want to touch you at all. And I don’t want you to touch me either. This might sound cold and unsociable. Not so. I hug. At home.
At one time, I worked with a number of huggers. Hugs were a standard form of greeting. They were passed around for birthdays, or before leaving for the holidays. One hugger was so extreme in his affections that he gained notoriety for following up his hug with a kiss.
I made it known that I was not interested in participating.
“I don’t hug”, I said.
An uncomfortable silence arose.
“I like my space,” I said.
“Ahhh”, they said, understanding now. “We’ve had one of your kind here before.”
My personal bubble became a source of amusement. Friends who understood my need for space leaned in close to my desk, chuckling when I moved my chair back to widen the space before I realized what I’d done.
A good friend once asked me, only half joking, “Do you hug your kids?”
“Of course I do!” I defended. “My husband, too!”
Proof was demanded.
Occasionally, I would still get ambushed. While visiting another cubicle, I gave one of my favorite co-workers a hug for his 60th birthday. A murmur sprang up from the crowd. Meghan is hugging? When did that start?
A sniper took advantage of a weak moment. While fielding questions on my no hugging policy, he lunged in from the side, crying, “I want a hug, too!!” He wrapped himself around me, pinning my arms down as he laid his head on my shoulder. I froze, eyes wide, unable to defend myself in any way. I had been caught unprepared in enemy territory. When he released me, I crept back to my own cubicle to regroup, determined to anticipate the next attack.
Despite the witty torment, my handicap was accepted. As the years passed, I became accustomed to their ways, and I would allow them to hug me once in a while. On my last day, I distributed hugs freely; a first in my work history. I have never worked with such an incredible group of people. They were hug-worthy.
As a plea to all huggers, please learn to recognize the signs of a non-hugger. If someone you’ve hugged turns into a block of wood the second you snare them in your arms, they’re probably a non-hugger. It isn’t that non-huggers don’t like you. We just don’t like to be touched by you. Touching of any sort is unnecessary in the workplace. If it must be done at all, let the non-hugger initiate the contact. Chances are they won’t.
There is good news, though! You can still be friends with a non-hugger! You may have to sit on your hands to avoid an involuntary embrace while using phrases like, “hello”, “good-bye”, and “I’m going to the bathroom”, but I assure you, the extra effort will be appreciated by the non-hugger.