To Hug or to Hold?
Women Need To Stop Hugging At Work And Start Shaking Hands – this post by Grindstone.com got me thinking. The essential thesis of the Grindstone piece is that for women in the North Atlantic zone to get on and start seriously ‘mixing it’ with male power brokers, then having a good strong hand shake in one’s handbag of greetings probably is as essential as a reliable waterproof mascara, and an all day long lippy. So here is why in my opinion this issue of how we greet is significant and carries implications for all sorts of thinking and change around equality and inclusion.
Whilst not neglecting the importance of a good firm hand shake for both genders in Western business contexts,(the mascara and the lippy probably taken up more by women than men) it is clear that men have a wide grammar developed over many centuries of confident public greeting patterns own which they can draw in their greeting of other males, through which they express solidarity, affirm their networks and indeed start the process of recruiting new members into their particular circles of power. Hand on shoulder, bro hug, strong connected handshake sometimes involving the double hand clasp, a brief hand pat on the back – all these are deployed when males greet and mutually affirm each other’s presence in public and business environments. When cross-gender relations are being established there is some hand shaking that is applied and also the kissing of women which can take a variety of forms from a single kiss on the cheek, and if continental, a double or triple kiss. Bro hugging is a strong form of homo-sociality – which has long been in place both in public spaces and behind closed doors in offices, clubs, pubs, terraces and sports facilities across continents. Its benefits are multiple in realising and developing social bonding, spheres of influence and the manifestation of trust – essential to building effective working relationships.
The challenge for females is that their forms of same sex bonding in public space which are widely recognised in western society, can carry a more domesticated or cocktail party flavour. The air kissing of WAGS (Wives and Girlfr
iends of Sportsmen) and celebrities which which has a great deal of public play in the North Atlantic imaginary, sustained by print and TV media – carries something slightly inauthentic in its enactment. The stronger double or treble kissing for women in the southern states of the EU -which can be undertaken across gender, has more historical authenticity and robustness as a form of greeting – and can operate powerfully as a cross-gendered greeting both domestically and in business relationships in those countries.
The wider public and business grammar of greetings which leave women both creating strong public presence, establishing trust in off line women’s networking fora, and able to establish equality in mixed gender settings – particularly where there are powerful hierarchical currents in play – needs to be explored and the underlying themes of social bonding, and territorial marking understood.
Where does air kissing sit in such settings? Does continental European cheek kissing present as suggested above, another subtly more powerful mode of initial greeting? Just how close do women want to get in close up and personal bear or bro hugs or a single formal kiss with male peers or even seniors? What is the level of relationship which is being publicly expressed in more intimate gestures as they start to be manifested as a routinised form of greeting? Should we start preparing North Atlantic females to manage strong purposeful hand shakes as their initial point of departure, with full facility in the panoply of other greetings increasingly available to them – alongside the essential ability to side step and adjust greeting patterns with which they do not feel comfortable? It happens – and women should be prepared for these moments and have already considered their responses. The proverb to be forewarned is to be forearmed is relevant in these cases. Consideration enables us to be both considerate and considered in our management of public space and all that can emerge within it to capsize women’s confidence and equality which occurs from time to time.
I remember one of my senior clients, when I was working as a junior member of the firm eight months pregnant and manifestly blooming, placing his hand on my presenting stomach as his first gesture of greeting and saying ‘wonderful, how is everything going down there’ – momentary shock allied with a genteel public school education alongside the presence of a surrounding posse of office senior males, prevented me responding in like manner, only a few inches further south. The point of all this discussion around acceptable forms of greeting is that we should be steered by the rule of thumb that greetings in the business and public domain are designed to express equality, respect and safety. That is the purported reason why the handshake was developed in the first place, to demonstrate that neither party held a weapon in their dominant hand (which somewhat begs the question about those who were left handed – but sinistrism can be discussed at another point).
Greeting, making connections, sustaining connections and supporting wider connections are part and parcel of building influence, healthy networks, and supporting our well-being in general. Understanding how these different forms of greeting function and how to become adept across the spectrum of the grammar of connection is an important part of cultural flexibility and intercultural literacy.
In Russia up until very recently shaking a woman’s hand by a man would not be acceptable, raising one’s hand to be kissed would be far more appropriate – but not in the business setting. The day of the firm, confident handshake is not over. Time methinks to ensure women and men can still manage a confident handshake, or a clear European cheek to cheek as women move forward into formerly designated and culturally marked male public spaces. Thoughts?
See more on cultural readiness and translateability at http://www.IbixInsight.com