I'm not a hugs person, and even less at work, so I always have trouble reacting to hugs, I don't mean random hugs but like birthday hugs, hugs when someone is congratulating you about something personal like getting married, being pregnant or so, in other words legitimate hug situations.

It's even worse with people I barely know, but that feel obligated to reach for a hug as well as to not seem rude or careless.

I always freak out and end up probably holding the other person in an awkward position, as in both arms at same height, or keep about a foot of distance between me and the other person.

How should one react to a hug as to avoid an awkward situation?

Obviously this depends a whole lot on how much you know the other person, but I'm more interested in random acquaintances.

  • 3
    How do you want to react? We can't really tell you how to react. We're here to help you convey a decision you've already made. If you want to avoid hugs because they make you uncomfortable, we can tell you how to ask people to not hug you but how someone reacts to a hug is highly personal. Some people hug everyone they see, other people only hug family.
    – Catija
    Sep 29 '17 at 23:01
  • 6
    Where are you located? Culture seems like helpful information here.
    – user288
    Sep 29 '17 at 23:03
  • I would like to just keep my arms up and let the other person do the hug, but I'm affraid that would not make it any less awkward. By the way, is not that I like dislike hugs, I have no problem with them, it's just that I never seem to get it right. Sep 29 '17 at 23:03
  • 3
    So, maybe your question is more "How do I accept/facilitate a hug from an acquaintance without it being awkward?"
    – Catija
    Sep 29 '17 at 23:04
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as too broad because the right answer will be VERY different according to where you are in the world (consider Germany and Arabia for two extreme examples as far as hugging is concerned). Sep 30 '17 at 22:57

For context, I'm in the US. I have this issue too! I'm awkward enough that people who know me usually don't offer hugs, or ask first. So if random people are also around, sometimes the friend will intervene on my behalf :)

Otherwise, what works best for me is figuring out when hugs are imminent and pre-empting them with a different gesture. This may vary depending on the context, but usually a handshake is an appropriate substitute. You could also go for a high-five or fistbump among friends.

If it's a situation where someone is giving out many hugs (for instance, exiting a wedding reception), you have time to prepare. When it's your turn, approach with a smile and your hand ready for a shake. Hopefully they take the hint! You can also observe what other people are doing - most likely you are not the only one to not hug.

For one-on-one situations where you suspect a surprise hug, keep a healthy amount of personal space between you (not distant, but enough that they can't just lean in on a moment's notice). This will give you a little more time to react.

If you realize someone is coming in for a hug anyways, just be up front about it: "oh, I don't do hugs, but thank you!". It may feel awkward to address, but it is usually much more awkward to end up in a stiff, at-arms-length embrace with an acquaintance! Of course sometimes they will insist, in which case I find it is best to just quickly do a hug and get it over with - but in my experience this is usually well-meaning extended family rather than workplace acquaintances.

Don't feel bad about (gently and politely) refusing a hug. People intend them as nice gestures, and making you uncomfortable would be the opposite of what they mean to do. Being honest will allow you both to have a pleasant interaction.

(Fun fact: I've ended a first date with a handshake after explaining I'm weird about hugs. And he still called me back for a second one!)


Keep your distance at the time of departure and keep your hand extended in handshake mode is the safest bet. Like in dancing, one person leads the departure ritual.

Alternatively, initiate the departure ritual in a medium-comfort way. Say "Hi five! See you around!" As long as you smile, people will know this isn't rude or mocking.

Once one person initiates a hug by opening their arms, it is nearly impossible to deny and let them not be slightly offended unless you deflect with "I'm just getting over a cold..." or something.

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