Hugging isn’t just something I love to do, it’s part of my brand. My primary love language is touch and hugging is how I constructively (not in a creepy way!) meet that need within my family, friends, colleagues and clients.
As technology allows us to live more and more in virtual relationships without ever needing a physical presence, I think hugging is becoming a lost art. We are more connected than ever and yet we are lonelier than ever. That is having some dire consequences on many young people: stress, anxiety, depression, lower confidence and more.
Did you know that scientific studies show some people have the same reaction in their brains from a hug by getting a LIKE on their Facebook status?? As an Extrovert, I totally understand the want and need for external validation, but really?? I’d rather have a hug. A real hug.
The physical and psychological benefits of hugging have been studied for years and it’s amazing what little positive contact does for us.
- Soothes fears and decreases stress, anxiety and depression
- Stimulate oxytocin (lower blood pressure and heart rate)
- Stimulates dopamine (increased motivation and positivity)
- Stimulates serotonin (decrease the chances of heart problems, helps fight excess weight and prolongs life)
- Helps balance the nervous system (parasympathetic)
- Boosts your immune system and promotes relaxation
I understand some of you may be creeped right out by the thought of hugging and are milliseconds from hitting your delete button. Breath, stay with me. Breath. Hugging is not comfortable for everyone and it must be approached with respect to others and some awareness.
Hugging in a workplace or professional setting needs some boundaries.
- Always ask permission and respect the answer. When I ask, I have never gotten a No, and the body language tells me how the other person may be feeling about the hug.
- Only give a hug when you sincerely mean it. No fake hugs, please. It’s worse than a manipulative compliment or trying to shake hands with the ‘dead fish’.
- Consider the authority balance. Going around hugging your superiors is not cool, especially if you’re using it as a way to get ahead (see #2). Hugging your direct reports might be very supportive but it comes down to whether you have permission (see #1) and your relationship with each person is close enough to do so.
- Hugs do not replace handshakes. There is a time and a place for a sincere hug and that boundary needs to be respected. If in doubt, offer a firm, palm-to-palm handshake with eye contact. Many times I have defaulted to this and had the other person laugh and say, ‘Aw come on, don’t I get a hug?!”
- Don’t play favorites. If you are in a group of colleagues please don’t doll out your best hugs to just a few and walk away. Either make it even or don’t at all. Maybe there’s a closet hugger in the group now feeling alienated and left out.
- Hugging can be flirting. If you have any question about a physical attraction to anyone in your office, do not be hugging! This is a slippery slope you do not want to fall down. Hugging can also be perceived as harassment so please abide by rule #1 and remember you always have the right to say NO.
Perhaps because I’m a ‘loud and proud hugger’, I don’t tend to attract people who don’t want to hug. I’ve also made my hugs part of my trademark so people know me for them and want my hugs.
I’ve developed some hugging secrets over the years that get the best responses and I’m going to share them with you here. Along with the boundaries I posted above, here is how I use hugging to express my care for other people and grow my relationships too.
- I have one arm above theirs and the other below to avoid a chokehold or the ‘around the waist’ faux pas.You are already in their personal space so keep it simple.
- As I go in for my hug, I inhale so that when I begin the hug, I’m exhaling into it. I find it’s an amazing invitation for others to relax and sink in, and they usually do. Keep breathing during the hug!
- I squeeze firmly enough that the other person knows I mean it. No ‘half-way there’ or ‘boa constrictors trying to kill them’. Be assertive.
- Do NOT talk. No whispering in their ear or making it weird, just be silent and present. They will likely comment or giggle, as I mention below. Just take it in in silence with your eyes open.
- Hug without expectation of return. This is a way of sharing who you are and showing caring for another person. How they respond is their deal.
- Here is the kicker; the secret to all hugs that has changed everything for me. Don’t end the hug first, ever! Let the other person decide when it’s over.
- Always say thank you after. Someone has just trusted you in their personal space and that is a big deal.
Honestly, these key points have deepened my relationships with my kids and brought many professional friends much closer, in an instant. Here are a few responses I get often that affirm and amaze me every time.
“Oh! That was amazing!” (This one generally comes from ‘quick huggers’ and then they immediately ask for another one)
“Wow! You should be a professional hugger”
“Oh my gosh, I could stay here all day!”
Inevitably the result is longer and more meaningful (yet respectful) contact. Some hugs have lasted minutes and in process deepening trust. With my kids our hugs have stretched on to where I’m conscious of being grateful for every extra second as they relish a safe place.
For those of you who just crossed over into catatonia, BREATH!! In through the nose, out through the mouth. This isn’t for everyone. However, I challenge you to create more meaningful hugs within your circle of trust with those people you feel safe with. Hug just a bit more and for just a second longer. You will be amazed at the results for you and those on the receiving end.
I’m looking forward to meeting in person for a real hug very soon! And if you start avoiding me, I might guess why 😉
Be wildly successful.
Oh man I love the science behind this!!! There ARE those secrets to hugging! Thank you for defining those points. I’ve seen it done well, poorly, without respect for others boundaries. I may have made a Booboo or two myself. Well, you know me, I love our hugs when I see you and I’m missing them right now. In this pandemic, I’ve been teary eyed so many times because I haven’t gotten my daily hugs from the people that I used to see so often. I’ve realized how much they mean to me. I feel like this new normal will change how people feel and that’ll be hard for some of us to deal with.
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