30

I have three coworkers that I work with directly (one being the manager of our "pod"). As a team we generally work on weekly goals with a meeting at the end of the week to go over accomplishments and missed targets.

The boss of our pod, Samuel then encourages a celebratory "hug" circle for each accomplishment, in which each person hugs the person to their left.

This makes me uncomfortable for multiple reasons. For one I don't think its appropriate in the workplace, and secondarily and perhaps more seriously, my coworker Johnathan always seems to conspicuously place himself to my left so I have to hug him, even once asking a coworker to switch with him so he could be closer to a whiteboard.

By all other accounts, they are great coworkers.

I work at a relatively small organization and can't afford to be fired, what would be the best way for me to address this situation, while still being able to work together?

  • So far you didn't try anything? – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jan 24 '18 at 18:49
  • 2
    Not going along with it seems more likely to create a few awkward moments than create an unworkable environment/get anyone fired. Are you okay with creating awkward moments? – Jesse Jan 25 '18 at 2:31
  • 2
    Is there anything you would be genuinely comfortable with, that still instils the same "I'm congratulating you on work well done" sentiment? For example, hand shakes, hi fives or just verbal acknowledgement. It may be easier to find a solution that works for you if you show your boss it's the method, not the meaning behind it, that you are not comfortable with. – Bilkokuya Jan 25 '18 at 11:52
  • 14
    Logistics question: if everyone is hugging the person to their left, does that mean everyone is hugging each other's back in some weird pantomine horse fashion, or is it more of a side-hug arrangement? I mean, both would be weird and uncomfortable, but one would be super-weird. – Spagirl Jan 25 '18 at 13:39
  • 3
    @GrimmTheOpiner Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – sphennings Jan 25 '18 at 15:29
45

You don't need to explain it. Explanation about boundaries can backfire and lead to people trying to maneuver around them.

Say something simple clear and definitive like "I don't do hugs" and offer a celebratory gesture you are comfortable with, high fives being an obvious choice.

Since this has been ongoing you're going to need to find a way roll things back. The more unilateral a decision it is the clearer the signal that you aren't doing hugs anymore will be. Something like "I'm not doing that anymore." or "I've tried it a couple times and hug circles aren't for me.". This should be followed up by suggesting a celebratory gesture that you're comfortable performing, like a snazzy fist pound.

If they continue to press the issue, after you have clearly expressed that you don't do hugs, start talking to the HR department.

  • 36
    This is an excellent answer. I'd suggest informing the boss first so it doesn't blindside him/her. Then it's less embarrassing for the boss. "Celebratory hug time!" being responded to with "sorry, I don't do hugs" can be misinterpreted. A quiet chat with the boss might lead to them just stopping the hugs and no one is the wiser. – baldPrussian Jan 24 '18 at 19:18
  • While this a good answer (my preferred approach), it does not align with the OP's requirement of avoiding confrontation/awkwardness. The comment by @baldPrussian, however, nails it and deserves to be an answer, not a comment. – alwayslearning Jan 26 '18 at 8:24
  • @alwayslearning It's not a confrontation it's establishing a boundary. If that boundary isn't respected, a confrontation should happen. It's important to have an alternative ready in the moment, so that as they're stepping in for a hug , "I don't do hugs" is immediately followed by a raised hand offering them a celebratory high five. This gives them an outlet and an immediate compromise. – sphennings Jan 26 '18 at 12:40
36

You should talk to Samuel and calmly explain how you feel about this issue.

Samuel, I need to talk to you about the hug circles at our weekly meetings. I appreciate the celebration of our accomplishments, but I am uncomfortable with hugs. I would much rather give high fives or handshakes.

The key is open and honest communication. You don't have to explain all of the reasons why you feel the way you do about hugs, but it's important to let your boss know how you feel. When something makes me uncomfortable at work, it's been my experience that talking about it rationally with my coworkers has been beneficial and appreciated. For example, I have a few coworkers who like to hug as a greeting. This makes me uncomfortable. When I took the time to simply let them know that I was uncomfortable with hugs, they were more than happy to find another way to greet me that was more comfortable for me.

  • 3
    This is a good answer. In my workplace or policy is if your boss refuses, this can be considered harassment. You've stated that you don't like physical touch and it's their duty as management to provide a safe space. – doctordonna Jan 25 '18 at 14:20
7

Supervisors pushing people into physical displays of affection? What a horrible, horrible idea. Especially with a guy angling to hug you every week. You need to tell your supervisor to knock it off; that you are not a hugger, and that this makes you intensely uncomfortable. He's basically giving this guy a chance to harass you every week. Maybe ask if your co-workers will back you up...even if they don't personally mind the hugs, they should want to make an atmosphere where everyone is comfortable.

If this doesn't work, you have to go to HR.

7

What I have learned from several psychologists and social workers is to use the formula:

When I am (describe behavior), I feel (describe feeling.) In the future I need (describe desired change), so that I will not feel (describe feeling.)

So, in this specific situation, you could say something like:

When I am (hugged by others) , I feel (uncomfortable.) In the future I need to be allowed to not participate in the group hug so that I will not feel (uncomfortable.)

The formula requires the person who has the problem to take full responsibility for the problem, and for resolving it, without blaming anyone else. It is a polite way to request that other people respect the person's personal boundaries, without making any judgements or accusations. It enables the problem to be resolved without creating conflict. If others refuse to adjust their behavior to accommodate the individual's needs, then they are the ones who are being inconsiderate and rude, not him.

These are referred to as "I messages" and are described in more depth here.

1

Some good thoughts here. It'll be easier to change if you can take some initiative. Take a moment with your boss, in private, and in a calm, non-confrontational way explain that you support his effort to keep morale high. Tell him that next time you'll high five, handshake or whatever you are comfortable with to show your support for the team /morale.

You shouldn't blindside your boss, which might embarass him or undermine his authority. But you still get your concerns aired with him.

Try to keep this simple and short. It doesn't need long discussion or explanations. It might be an awkward moment but it if you don't make a big deal about it, it should pass quickly, everyone will figure out that you prefer a high five to a hug. And it should quickly become an non-event.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.