Hug Less, Handshake More – On Saying Goodbye In Corporate America

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Perhaps you’ve been through what I recently experienced. Here’s the scene: the end of a business dinner with a valued customer, whose attendees outnumber me about five to one. I know Preminger, the senior guy on their side, reasonably well. The rest are veritable strangers who may as well play special teams for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The evening is winding down, and everyone mills about in front of the restaurant, deciding between cab and subway. All that’s left is goodbye. And that’s when it happens: Preminger pulls me in close and businessman-hugs me. 

If ever a situation called for a handshake, this one did. But Preminger had to go all Scarlett O’Hara on me. When did this become the norm, businessman-on-man-hugging? Good heavens, Preminger, I didn’t take a bayonet in the lung for you, I just bought dinner! Plus as hugs go, this one was borderline lascivious. I’d chalk it up to whiskey, but Preminger doesn’t drink. He’s one of those guys who perpetually claims to be training for something. After seeing the dent Preminger just put in the Korean barbecue platter, I can only hope he has his sights on Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Any 26.0 sticker on his car likely indicates age at his first cardiac event.

I loathe businessman-hugs generally and this one particularly, for it violated both the letter and the spirit of the Geneva Convention. It’s easy to remember the applicable rule because it rhymes: there should be no nexus below the solar plexus. In other words, if we must hug our chests should draw in toward one another, meeting at the apex of the A-frame, while our waists remain anchored and apart. I don’t know what you just did there, Preminger, but from where I’m standing the exact opposite occurred. It was like I was the bar that you were trying to limbo under. Bottom line is I should never come away from our embrace knowing that you wear your wallet in front.

Making matters worse, with his decision Preminger as executive officer established the rules of disengagement for everyone else. Now all of his direct reports — the ones I just met — hug it out with me, the imprinting instinct being stronger only among baby geese. Preminger is already half-way down the block, whistling and thinking about the current issue of Runner’s World that awaits him at home, but I’ve still got to guy-grind with his sales team. One of them really pushed my buttons. His crime? Saying cheers while not being British or Australian, and during our embrace no less. This means he spoke to me in the intimate air space reserved for two people: my wife, and any ninja coming to kill me. We didn’t get Cornwallis into early foul trouble at Yorktown only blithely to adopt the customs of the vanquished. Thanks again will do just fine. 

I’m mad at myself, too, for not creating bodily separation with a hug-shake. Sure, it happened fast, but it wasn’t my first rodeo, and once set a hug-shake would have worked all the way down the maudlin receiving line. You probably gather that I’m proud of this countermeasure, forged as it was in the fire of corporate necessity. This is where you brace your right elbow against your right hip and simultaneously shake hands across the body while hugging up top. In so doing, you restore the propriety of the former and experience only half the horror of the latter. But again, no time to set my elbow. The junior guys got all up in my business even faster than Preminger polished off his peach cobbler. 

The last in line, a woman named Florencia, is the only one on Preminger’s team with a lick of sense. Florencia wants to hug me even less than I want to hug her, so her technique is textbook. Unfortunately she does plant a cheek-kiss on me, which triggers new panic. Do I kiss back? If so, one, two, or three pecks? (I’ve seen each.) Real-kiss or air-kiss? Her name sounds Uruguayan – is that relevant? One peck seems the safest course so that’s what I go with, real kiss variety because air-kisses are just too Vichy French. As it turns out Florencia wasn’t expecting a return kiss, real or otherwise, so she overcorrects and lurches back toward me with such suddenness that our eyeglasses scrape. The consequences on my Saturday morning are immediately clear: Goodbye, Chelsea vs. Man City, Hello, Lenscrafters. 

None of this had to happen. We all just need to step back, take a breath and rediscover the art of shaking hands. This means you, Preminger.