I worry that the ‘Me too’ movement will stop us offering appropriate physical contact with each other at work. I know many leaders who are too scared to act in the wrong way they are avoiding all contact.
I am a supporter of education of what is and is not acceptable. I have been on the receiving end of several instances of sexual harassment, some of which was horrific.
However, many of us spend about half our ‘awake’ hours at work and it can often be stressful. We don’t know who we can trust, and we are often on guard.
A hug, even brief can make us feel accepted, valued and cared about. It gives us a quick injection of oxytocin making us feel more connected with others which helps to release stress.
About 18 months ago I was facilitating a session with a new group of leaders for a large supermarket chain. I hadn’t met the male senior leader and I would be facilitating his team for the next 2 days. This is unusual as I would normally meet my client prior to leading a session with them. As I walked into the room this huge tall man came bouldering towards me and gave me the biggest hug. He was smiling and saying, ‘Welcome, so good to meet you’. I immediately felt welcome, values and excited to work with him and his team.
This experience is in sharp contrast to the sometimes cold, aloof greeting I will sometimes experience as people try to navigate the question of how best to act. I have experienced some people even avoiding a handshake lately, scared this might create an issue.
I use judgement on when to hug and when to handshake, but I always do one or the other. I want people to know I acknowledge them, value my time with them and I am friend and not foe.
My experience of sexual harassment has not left me afraid of appropriate physical contact. In truth verbal sexual harassment can be as big an issue as physical. We should be considerate of what we say and do but don’t let’s stop being human.