For example, I was at a dinner party recently and greeted a female friend with a handshake. She said, "That was formal," and slight awkwardness ensued. When we were leaving I made sure to give her a hug.
If, at the end of dinner, someone had pulled out their wallet and starting putting money on the table to pay for their meal, the awkwardness would have been much more intense.
Approaching from a bit of a distance with arms down look happy and kind of throw your arms out - half "this could turn into a hug" half "I'm just excited to see you." If they reach out a hand, shake it. If they reciprocate, go in for the hug. If they don't, stay safe with the handshake. The point is to give them time and opportunity to react with body language rather than speech, but not so much time that everyone's stuck thinking about it and upping the awkward factor. If it does get awkward just change the subject and move on. You'll both forget about it in a few minutes.
Either way, I'm with everyone else here in that I believe informal greetings are for informal relationships.
The biggest thing - confidence. Just like your 80-year-old grandparent that's scared to touch a computer because they might break it, I was scared in social interactions because people might not like me. There's a lot of people out there and most are a lot more awkward and tolerant of awkwardness than you think. Just don't spill water on the keyboard or download a virus and you probably won't break it. Once you internalize that, you'll get the confidence to fiddle and experiment.
The other biggest thing - discomfort. Focus on avoiding the other person's fears/discomfort and work hard to squash your own.
Also, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.
I'd like to point out here that I'm admitting a bias rather than expressing an opinion.
EDIT: at least now I'm approaching something resembling adulthood I don't have the problem of trying to negotiate on the fly which of the various intricate hiphop style handshakes we're executing. Those were the days...
I grip with what I hope is a sincere level of firmness - as in, "I'm really pleased to be shaking your hand, thank you" - and I'm flummoxed when it feels as though the other person has simply dangled their appendage for me to interact with.
This was a wonderful turn of phrase. It should be in some sales manual or something.
I also know other people with very limp handshakes. I don't mistrust them, but I do think it's weird.
But what I hate are the ALPHA handshakes. Not just firm, but too much squeezing, and trying to turn so their hand is on top. It's calculating and manipulative and just weird. I never know whether to just let them do it; or to let them do it and then turn it when they're lulled into a false sense of security; or whether my entire handshake with them should be a battle of twisting and turning.
I never, ever initiate hugs at work either. If someone else wants to, I'll go in, but I just don't.
Don't be so sure. I'm in my 40s and run into this from time to time with informal settings, with full-grown adult males.
I'm not trying to match the strength of their shake, just adjust my own. The objective is to make the other person feel more comfortable.
I start with a strength based on some stereotypes (for example, slim women generally have weaker handshakes than big men), but adjust the strength during the shake if I feel my initial strength wasn't right.
Whether this makes the other person actually feel more comfortable is difficult to know, but it makes me feel happy that I've tried.
However, it does mean that I feel a bit sorry for people who have a crushing handshake - what do they think they are doing?
Any time someone tries to crush my hand I instantly feel apprehensive of them, as you describe. But perhaps some of them don't actually realise how hard they're squeezing.
I bet you also feel awkward when you do try to apply enough strength, but the other person has a stronger than average handshake, which makes you wonder if your two hands would implode if you apply the same or more strength as the other person does.
What is your opinion on the opposite? For me that's far more unsettling. I've initiated handshakes with people whose age and home country meant they didn't really have much experience of the Western "firm handshake", always the limp wrist. I don't know whether to shake it, or draw the hand to my lips as courting a princess. Which, I assume, was not one in your repertoire of "intricate hiphop style handshakes".
Jokes aside, more than one family member had felt it important to instruct me in the art of a good handshake as a matter of gentlemanly conduct from a young age, even long after I'd obviously "got it", and I distinctly recall one of my friends suddenly in his mid-20s going from a pathetic one to a really decent powergrip apparently because his boss had told him after a promotion that he ought to work on his handshake. I say this in defense of the one who "actively squeezes", as it may not be macho-signaling so much as over-correction for their past dead fish.
I've only ever experienced this with peers who I know well, and I actually find there's a pleasant intimacy to it. It would definitely be weird if it happened in a formal context though.
Btw I loved your original comment in both style and content, hence my riffing. One of those if-I-could-upvote-twice circumstances.
 When someone says "opposite" draw a reasonable hyperplane and reflect.
I generally try to match my handshake to the person I'm shaking, but I feel a shiver of disgust when given a limp hand.
I feel the most trust towards someone with a firm, strong grip.
The only handshake I dislike is the one that literally crushes your hand. But those are pretty rare, and distinct from a firm grip.
I don't actually know which handshake style tends to be most popular.
In some places a good grasp is more of an indication of attentive communication (as in "I'm listening/ready") than "macho-ism" of any form.
I've rarely seen strong grasps as an indicator of "macho" except in early adulthood/teens, where it's mostly a form of play.
On the contrary, a very flimsy grasp gives you exactly the opposite: the handshake becomes an afterthought.
I've been in a situation where my girlfriend's friends do neither: they do the air cheek kiss thing. Its really confusing because I'm never sure if they are coming in for a hug or an air cheek kiss. Its hard to try to 'take charge' and initiate something otherwise because I start to feel like I'm about to be rude by doing something different and get more awkward.
Its nice to know I'm not the only one with this kind of issue.
I have no problem with hugging but I really don't care - I never instigate it with males or females but have no problem returning a hug if one is incoming.
Who has the time to worry about stuff like this? I really don't get it, chances are the people you are imagining taking offense aren't analyzing the interaction at all - let alone as deeply as you are.
I'd strongly advise bosses not to hug their employees except in very rare circumstances, those interactions are much likely to be analyzed by the recipient and any observing coworkers
I'm a married male for the record.
Other people don't need to give something the same amount of attention that I do for it to become a meaningful subject of thought for me. I also don't think that people generally take offense when (say) I give them a handshake instead of a hug, or the other way around. At worst, it creates some momentary awkwardness. All that said, it's still interesting.
Maybe I'm too friendly or completely oblivious to how socially awkward and creepy I am, but I hug many of my close male friends, even though I am a 'cisgendered heterosexual male.' In a way I am saddened that the author is not on 'hugging terms' with is own father.
Perhaps he is overthinking the trivial niceties of social interactions? In my mind, it's never been a Big Deal. Do what comes naturally, Anything is only as awkward you make it.
After a few misguided attempts at executing the 'urban greeting,' I have since made a conscious effort to demonstrate clear intent upon encountering an acquaintance. In other words, I make sure my hand is clearly oriented in either handshake or urban greeting ready position.
Simply put, it's like partner dancing - one must lead for the other to follow, or else you'll end up with the 'ball-and-socket' when one goes for the fist bump and the other for the handshake/high five.
I'll never forget the time I accidentally gave my dentist a bro shake. You should have seen how excited he got. Poor lonely dentists...
Answer: you don’t hug Mrs. Clinton or the female CEO because you respect them too much.
Now, notice that this is how men treat ALL males.
Simple test: would you go get coffee with this person, with no business interests? Yes) Hug for men, hug+cheek-kiss for women, No) Hand-shake.
Disclaimer: I'm from Brazil.
In a sense, it's like the German distinction between friends and acquaintances: friends are a rare treasure, whereas in America we seem to consider just about everyone friends.
It's awesome, everyone should do it.
Certainly, you can't accuse Shane Snow of trying to push an agenda that supports the notion of men being cool and composed. He is super awkward and he knows it.
Also, the notion that hugging too much cheapens hugging is a bit silly. It's very easy to express genuine warmth and emotion in an embrace. It doesn't matter how many other people you've hugged, or how indifferent you were at the time. Your friends aren't going to see you hug other people and think "oh, man, he'll hug anyone, maybe that means I'm not special".
When in doubt, I say "Hey… do we hug?" with a smile before saying hello or goodbye. It works.
But I got used to it, and even learned different forms (twice, starting left - dunno where high chance for funny misunderstandings, thrice, starting right - Serbia iirc).
I greet everybody with a Handshake when I meet them the first time but can say the most universal rule is just to be relaxed about it.
People that are so uptight to have a bias against someone where the first greeting results into some awkwardness through cultural differences (where cultural differences cann also easily occur even within the same city), is not someone I want to be acquainted most of the time.
Contrary I even find a little misunderstanding about greeting protocol on a first meeting being a good ice breaker.
For business purposes I would of course always plead for erring on the conservative side ;) handshakes work well most of the time.
The only strangers I make a point of hugging are Germans, just to freak them out!
But seriously, as long as you greet sincerely with any action, you are highly unlikely to cause offense. Just note their reaction for future reference after.
More importantly is how much personal space you give them after that point. A one-off strange greeting is almost always acceptable; occupying someone's personal space for an extended time is another matter entirely...
I was next, and on a whim called out "I'll hug you, Joe," and did so with gusto, to much laughter from the room. It was shocking, as I'm the guy who does nothing with anyone. No handshake, no hug, just radiating a pleasant uncomfortableness.
There are only two people I habitually hug, though, my wife and my father-in-law; the latter being much less awkward than my use of a semicolon. He's the Kramer to my Soup Nazi, and we get along famously for no apparent reason (aside from a common interest in his daughter's welfare, that is).
The "stop and chat" dilemma immortalized by Larry David: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5f2LJXz-l2k
The norm doesn't specify the timeout but to me it comes naturally to just nod and say hello after the "moment" I am convinced the timeout happened.
 It certainly is in Poland and I am fairly convinced about Western Europe too
 About one and a half igniseconds 
If that wigs you out, I have a particular friend group for whom kissing becomes a thing almost immediately after they've met you. The first time it happens it can be absurdly disorienting.
As for the handshake, go with Ron Swanson's advise: Firm, Dry, 3 seconds.
Edit: I should say I only know that to be true in the BsA area. Not sure about other provinces.
The palpable sense of horror that this created remains with me to this day.
So yeah, greeting seems to be a pretty diverse and complicated cultural phenomenon ;-)
Survey where strict boundaries matching the provinces of France are found. The number of kisses varies from one to five (!).
Male friends or business contacts = handshake.
Female on first contact or in any business context = handshake.
Female acquaintance I don't know particularly well = smile and Hi before there's any ambiguity.
Female friend or reasonable acquaintance (e.g., wife's friend) = kiss on the cheek (each side with female relatives).
If you act awkwardly or second-guess, it'll be awkward. If you end up in one of those weird situations where you half handshake and half kiss or confuse kissing sides and somehow brush lips, just laugh it off. "Well, I screwed that up!"
(I'm in Australia.)
Please, no. Not everyone wants to hug you, not everyone wants to kiss you, not everyone wants to have sex with you. Default to no physical contact unless it is very clear that both parties are happy with that contact. Acting with confidence is simply pressuring the other party into agreeing.
You're okay with handshakes? That's physical contact.
It's not about what you or some other introvert wants to do. It's a question of social norms. You either conform, or you'll be considered to be antisocial.
You should really try to understand the difference between a hug/cheek-kiss and sex. Where in this thread has anyone suggested that sex between strangers meeting for the first time, business associates, coworkers or even friends is a social norm?
Secondly, isn’t one of the main points of the feminist movement to abolish ‘rape culture’ where it is the social norm to pressure people into intercourse against their will? So even if hugging/kissing was a social norm, that hardly says anything about its acceptability.
Thirdly, I don’t see much of a qualitative (rather than quantitative, in some sense) difference between hugging/kissing and sex – both are forms of intimate physical contact with a strong emotional component, as opposed to handshakes, which usually lack these emotions and require much less contact.
Fourthly, I don’t really mind being perceived as anti-social by those stubborn enough to force their superfluous, unhelpful and intruding habits onto others. Interesting people usually don’t do that.
Seems like a bit much extrapolation from a limited data set there.
I hug any gender if they make the first attempt, because I'm totally fine with it but won't initiate more than a handshake unless it's really obvious that a hug is in order. It also depends on context.
If you're really feeling awkward, start out with a hand wave as you approach the person... either they'll wave back, or try to initiate a handshake/hug with you. Either way it's a good enough greeting for friends and co-workers alike.
This is cultural, of course. In Latin America the cheek kiss is expected, and if you don't give it it's considered rude.
I don't really have any advice on a better answer, for me it just... feels natural. For both work and personal, both men and women, there are some who I'd hug, some a kiss on the cheek (women only for this one - except a few people in France/Belgium I work with), others whose hand I'd shake every time I see them and others who I'd just greet verbally. Same with female. Never stopped to think about it, or discussed it, just happens.
Maybe the best reason to do this is to practice consent culture in our everyday lives. As it relates to HN readership, consent culture would go a long way in improving the work [and convention] environment for women in technology. I wish more awkward nerds would read up on this.
(this blog might be NSFW)
And the idea that this needs a shift towards "consent culture" is just... weird. Maybe some people can't read, or don't feel comfortable trying to read, the signs as to what will work socially, and if they want to set rules that's fine. I don't have any problem with someone who will only shake hands, or who won't have any physical contact at all - hell, if they want to follow your rule of always asking, I'd feel awkward, but if that's what you prefer then whatever, I'm fine with that. But don't assume everyone needs to follow your rule. For the record I've never asked anyone if they want to have sex, that hasn't lead to me raping anyone.
(Also, the article doesn't suggest you ask everyone before you have sex with them; it's more about being mindful of "is this person really into it, or could I be pressuring them?" If you believe it is impossible for this to happen, think again, as all perception is skewed by personal bias)
Nope. I usually know when a hug will be good and I'm ready to be wrong. I'm not going to pussyfoot my way through every slightly-more-intimate interaction I take in this life.
 Depending on your jurisdiction, the phase of the moon and sufficiently many other things that this message box is too small to list them all.
What I do is imagine I'm going for a handshake, if their arm extends it's likely they're looking for a handshake, otherwise turn it into a soft hug!
Scenario 2 : You are at a birthday party/after office/whatever social gathering, and you are presented a person from the opposite sex DO NOT shake his/her hand... That is as rude as you can get, what are you afraid of?
Scenario 3 : You go to your girlfriends house, and are introduced to his father, you shake his hand, because you ate trying to show respect. After the first few visits, you will most likely kiss him hello/goodbye
Also, in Latin America we do 1 kiss mostly, in Brazil 2 kisses are the norm, some other places are up to 3...
So I believe no matter what happens, try to talk about it, stay open, and remember that awkwardness tends to go away the minute you say "I'm sorry, that was awkward, was I supposed to kiss or shake?"
Where this perhaps becomes a problem for me is when I correspondingly cannot "fake it", whether that be a "firm, engaging" handshake, or hug (ugh...), or whatever.
I welcome a firm handshake at the end of conversation or negotiation with a straight-dealing, engaged counter-party.
I despise the glad-handing salesman or the like. And, dude, when you sidle up next to me and drape your arm over my shoulder? GTFO.
Hugging someone with whom I don't have some level of intimacy? In significant part an exercise in not pressing the wrong body parts together.
Hugging someone who is a real friend? A momentary welcoming of their physical presence and comfort in same.
So, to summarize: Welcome contact comes from being respectful and cognizant of our relationship (or lack thereof).
> And, dude, when you sidle up next to me and drape your arm over my shoulder? GTFO.
That also goes -- this is from a hetero male perspective -- for the overly touchy female. There are some who use physical contact as a tool for foisting a temporary intimacy onto another party that is used for one degree or another of manipulation.
Guys do this, too -- if you read my "dude", above, as being male; although it could be taken in a gender-neutral fashion.
The point of my postscript is to clarify that, from my perspective, both genders can do this... "over-touching", although the details may vary from instance to instance.
I know it's done in good part because it often works, to greater or lesser degree. But, I for one find it annoying as hell because it is not genuine, and/or it seeks to exercise a degree of control and manipulation I do not welcome.
Two great greetings that go great together!
My general rule of thumb is – if I'm comfortable with the person and she's a woman, it's a hug. If I'm not comfortable, it's a handshake and a small inner sigh at the inadequacy of it. I don't consciously think about if it's work or not work, but I do of course tend to feel less comfortable with work contacts than I do with other social contacts, at least for the first few meetings.
What's wrong with just saying "hi"? Or a friendly fist-bump if you want to do something more fun?
I especially hate meeting a new group of people and having to shake every hand. It's so stupid.
As an American now living in Germany I always have to hug every single friend I've met more than once. I do it just because it's the expected behavior but I don't necessarily enjoy it.
FWIW I do feel like I'm a real life Larry David sometimes.
Hugs are for close family and I will make it very obvious that I don’t want to hug you if you try.
Take Montreal, Canada: Half of the population there says goodbye via two air kisses, half hug, then you got the formal handshakes into the mix. Nobody announces what they're doing when they go in, so it's not uncommon to get the hug + two air kisses, which feels a little sexual to me.
To add to the complexity, you have people of different cultures in the city. Arab men for example kiss on the cheek but don't kiss the women. So you need to size a person's culture, sex + the level of the relationship up whenever saying hello or goodbye to people.
Reminds me a post from David Cohen  who pointed to Brad Feld on the same topic .
Time to wake up that bro courage and start fist-bumping people ;)
With hugging there's always also the dilemma of whether to pat a few times or just a strong hug, so the CPU cycles just drive me mad.
This comment originally started as an analogy to striking distance and grappling distance in a fight, but I couldn't make it read unsatirically.
(Demographic disclaimer: I am a woman and an engineering manager. Also Australian which I think means I have a slightly bigger personal space than the average American.)
Interesting I don't think that I have ever seen that except on TV/movies. (Outside of grandparents and grandchildren)
I've always thought of hugs involving males as reserved for family and close female friends (or your girl friend/wife’s close female friends). Hug in a business setting.. never!
I've also thought handshakes should be as medium strength as possible.
I live in the U.S. Great Lakes region/Midwest.
If the relationship is close, you can actually kiss the cheek of the other person, but that's optional. If the relationship is very close, you will hug and kiss on the cheek, but just once.
On males, if the relationship is close (family or close friends), you'll get the hug and kiss once, though it depends on people. A "casual" handshake and/or hug it's the common for friends.
All this complicated ritual is called "kissing", so I guess can be difficult to know when to do what for foreign people, but it gets typically done in a very casual way, so most people won't feel very awkward if they try to kiss and get a handshake or otherwise.
Curiously, only a couple of months after I came to Ireland, I met the girlfriend of a coworker, and she introduces herself with a handshake. I shake her hand, and then said: "Oh, I'm too new here, I almost kiss you". Just as the words escaped my mouth I got how weird that sounds (the look on her face was also funny). I didn't talk to her on the rest of the night or try to explain myself. Too embarrassing :-D
(I've talked to her later, so I don't think there's bad feelings involved or anything)
Edit: just do whatever you do with confidence and a smile. Doesn't really matter after that.
If you were really treating women equally to men, you wouldn't follow a "what's good for one is good for the other" policy. You'd accept that the norms and behaviors of each gender should be held in equal regard, and adapt your own behavior to the person or group of people you're talking with. Acknowledging, in other words, that women have as much right to be in the workplace as men, rather than treating their actions as somehow foreign or alien to the "acceptable" male norms.
I mean, your simple and straightforward logic is the logic that four-year-old boys use when they want to punch girls on the playground and don't feel like being courteous.
After all, punching girls is exactly as appropriate as punching guys.
Gender inequality is almost wholly a social problem, not a biological one. And
Yes. A problem where people find it appropriate for women to hug men but not for men to hug women. A problem where people find it appropriate for women to hug women but not for men to hug men. A problem where people find it appropriate to expect men to hug women. A problem where people find it appropriate for boys punching boys but not for boys punching girls.
You can hardly get any more gender-unequal than that.
I suspect that if someone I were in business with tried to hug me, we'd not be in business for very much longer.
Then the 1990's happened, and now it doesn't seem like there's as much of a desire to emulate the superficial elements of Japanese business culture. That being said, I don't think that eastern-style bowing has ever been commonplace for western business environments.
Also, why would guys be any different?
Different cultures are different, but this is the standard drill repeated from elementary school onward through workplace policies in my part of the US. People routinely ignore it without punishment, but it's there hanging over the head of everyone.
That's just not true. A hug could be sexual harassment, but so could a really dirty handshake. Let's not live in a world where we're scared of normal interaction.
Sorry. You just made me laugh out loud.
If someone asks for a hug and you don't want it, you can offer the handshake and just wait. The next time around, they probably won't offer the hug, but if they do you can do the same thing over. Nobody will seriously judge you for being a "handshaker and not a hugger".
As for doing some kind of predatory hugging, then yeah, it's obviously not cool, but I don't think any male could pull it off on a female without paying the social price.