Your Guide To The Basics Of Hug Etiquette

Relationship Experts | | Expert Author , Dating & Life Coachℹ️
Updated On: October 20, 2023
How to hug someone
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How to hug someone is a lesson we never thought we’d need, but is there anything more awkward than a hug gone wrong? Imagine someone gesturing their arms open for a hug, and the person in front of them doesn’t move a muscle. The awkward silence that follows can swallow you whole. 

Taking the time out to learn the proper way to hug can help you avoid such a moment. It will also make sure you don’t replay hugging misadventures in your head over and over again, losing yet another night’s sleep. 

In this article, dating coach Geetarsh Kaur, founder of The Skill School, which specializes in building stronger relationships, tells us all we need to know about hugging. Let’s help you make sure you don’t end up needing to change your name and move to a different country after a failed hug.

How To Hug Someone: Your Guide To Hug Etiquette 

Did watching Jerry Seinfeld turn down a hug from Kesha give you a severe case of second-hand embarrassment? But to be honest, he didn’t do much wrong there. He respectfully turned down a hug, and though it hurt Kesha, it’s nothing she won’t get over quickly. 

Nonetheless, it’s a painful watch. A hug is the most comfortable form of touch, but you’ve got to keep in mind the professional and cultural aspects of the situation. A person’s personality, background, their upbringing all play a role in determining how to hug someone. 

For example, when a friend’s father, who is in the armed forces, leaned in to give me a side hug, I instinctively reciprocated by extending an arm on his back. As it turns out, he didn’t appreciate it that much. 

In his profession, it’s not expected of civilian acquaintances to reciprocate the hug. In such situations, it’s best to not initiate or extend an invitation until you’re absolutely sure of how it is going to be received. 

So, who you’re giving the hug to, where you are, and the type of hug you go with all factor into deciding the right move. You wouldn’t go up to your boss and give them a big hug every morning, would you?

You also need to think about what you are trying to communicate with the hug. Is it an “I missed you” hug? Or a simple friendly one: a half-hug that lasts a second or two. It’s a great way to show affection, and you’ve just got to be sure about who you give the hug to and how you initiate it.

The Basic Etiquette And Situations To Consider

First things first, try to look for cues that will tell you whether the person is open to hugging or not. If they’re not looking directly at you or not smiling, if their body language appears to be hesitant, they’re probably not going to graciously accept an embrace. 

Another important aspect is to make sure you read the room. Just because you’re out of the office at an off-site party doesn’t mean you can be overly friendly with everyone. Take a look at the protocol, assess how people are greeting each other, and what the general energy feels like. 

Since how to hug someone can be a bit more confusing to figure out in some situations than in others, let’s talk about a few of those scenarios and a few tips that might help, so you don’t end up regretting ever leaning in. 

Related Reading: Know How Much He Loves You Through His Body Language

The first date: to hug or not to hug? 

Let’s cut to the chase: you can definitely initiate a hug on a first date. However, under usual first-date circumstances, a half-hug is pretty much protocol. It’s basically a side hug, which generally lasts less than two seconds.

The duration matters a bit. Too long, and you might give off unfavorable vibes. Too short, and you may make it seem like you’re uninterested. Don’t let it rack your brain; you’ll know what feels right in the moment. 

It’s practically a way of saying, “It’s nice to meet you.” There isn’t any emotional intimacy or comfort that’s being communicated. Think of it as a more endearing substitute to shaking someone’s hand. 

Hugging in relationships

As I mentioned, hugging is the most affectionate form of physical touch. If your partner’s going away for a while, it’s probably during the “goodbye hug” that you are left fighting back the tears. But in some situations, couples often overlook the importance of this act of affection. 

It doesn’t matter how long two people have been together; make sure you hug each other as much as you can. Did your partner have a tense day at work? Help them loosen up with a hug that screams out that you care.  

It’s not just something you should be doing only when you’re hit with good — or bad — news. Do it in the morning, evening, and night. No, you won’t overplay it. No, its importance will not die down. Can you ever really overplay telling your partner you care about them?

The hugging jealousy conundrum

Are you worried that your partner’s hug to a friend lasted a little longer than it should have? Is it an act of inappropriate hugging? Is there a viable cause for concern here?

Well, chances are, you probably already know. Human psychology can usually tell pretty clearly what the intent behind the hug is. There are two things to consider here: the nature of the hug and the person the hug is given to. 

Different ways to hug someone can mean different things
Hugging is one of the best ways to show affection

The nature of the hug

If you want to get technical with it, there might be a few things you can take note of. When it’s a friendly or affectionate one, the arms are usually over or around the shoulders. If it’s a little sexual in nature, you may see the arms on the lower back, you may see them move, you may see them linger. However, try not to overanalyze it. What matters most is what your gut tells you, and who the hug is given to. Don’t let jealousy in your relationship get the better of you for no reason.

Related Reading: Body Language And Its Role In Healthy Relationship

The people involved in it 

If your partner is giving a hug to someone they’ve known for two decades, the nature of the hug goes for a toss. If their platonic and friendly relationship has clearly been established, there’s usually no cause for concern. 

But, on the other hand, if you notice your partner hugging someone new they recently met at an office party you had no idea about, and if the hug goes on for longer than you expected, it’s understandable that you might have a few anxious thoughts. 

Try to figure out the nature of their relationship before you jump to conclusions. A hug isn’t worth questioning your trust over, so don’t let it get to you. 

What about hugging at work? 

According to me, the first thing I’d suggest is to avoid hugging in the workplace. The dynamics can get too difficult to maneuver through, and sending the wrong message can be fatal for your professional reputation. There’s too much at stake, try to maintain the decorum. 

If someone tries to hug you at work and you’d much rather not be a part of it, don’t just give in. It can be as simple as saying, “I think we should respect the decorum of the place we are in. It’s a wonderful gesture and I appreciate it, but I don’t think this is the right place.”

But in situations where everyone involved wants to hug each other, my recommendation would be to make sure it’s not a close or tight hug. Keep it casual, maybe even a side hug, and try not to wrap both your arms around the other person. An endearing one-handed hug that lasts a while should be your go-to at the workplace. A body language mistake at the workplace can be detrimental.

Related Reading: How To Tell If A Hug Is Romantic? Get To Know The Secret Behind Hugs!

How to hug someone to offer emotional support 

Pain shared is pain halved. And there’s no better way to offer support than by giving someone a hug that communicates your care and concern without ever even saying anything. Even so, as is the case in most other circumstances, you must make sure the person you give a hug to is willing to accept it. 

The proper way to hug when someone is in a bad emotional state involves testing the waters. Don’t just jump in with your arms extended, trying to wrap them around the person. If they’re not comfortable, you may just make it worse. 

Inappropriately hugging someone when they’re in a state of despair can make things a lot worse. To make sure they’re accepting of this way of showing concern, the first thing you should do is touch them. 

It can be something like a pat on the shoulder, or something more personal like touching their hand, if you have already established a rapport with them. When you see them loosening up, the best thing to do is ask them if they want a hug. 


The failed hug doesn’t have to be as bad as it seems

When your advances for a hug are denied or you’re not interested in hugging someone, it can seem like things can get awkward pretty quick. The important thing to do in both cases is to make sure you address the elephant in the room as soon as possible.

Instead of laughing around it and avoiding talking about how your hug was just refused, just say something as simple as, “I’m sorry, we can just shake hands, it’s nice to meet you.” Analyze your date’s body language, address it, and move on. 

What about if you’d like to refuse a hug? Well, most of the time, you can see that a hug is coming your way. The best thing to do is to nip it in the bud, put your hand out, go for a handshake instead, and address it. 

Don’t let the awkwardness of the whole thing keep you from speaking up. If you’re not comfortable with the embrace, make sure you let that be known. 

Hopefully, you’ve now been equipped with the information to figure out how to hug someone. It’s easy to see how someone can overthink the proper way to hug, but more often than not, it’s something that comes to us naturally.

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