As the final day with my employer approaches, there has been a lot of reminiscing at work. I’ve been with the same group of people for more than 10 years. Today, we got into a discussion about hugging and business and why I think the two don’t mix.
I know, you’re saying, “Well, it seems kind of obvious why the two shouldn’t go together. Don’t they teach you that in workplace harrassment classes?
Yes, but I work in an unusual, tightly knit industry. Sometimes too tightly knit. When the group of us involved in this particular business congregate at a conference, there’s an awful lot of hugging – as if it’s a family reunion.
When I attended my first conference, I noticed it right off the bat. Why are all of these people hugging each other? This is supposed to be a professional atmosphere. Not being the huggy type, it really struck me as a bit bizarre.
And then, I saw one coming my way. A business acquaintance I’d met maybe once or twice before. He had the look of a hugger and he was walking towards me. His arms started to outstretch. I’m sure my eyes were the size of saucers and I did the only thing I could think of to escape the oncoming squeeze. I stuck my hand straight out in front of me in traditional hand shake position. He faltered for a moment, recovered, grinned and shook my hand. “Not a hugger, huh?”, he asked. I smiled back and shook my head.
Unfortunately, that plan never worked again. The more I got to know the people in my industry, the less I could escape the hugs. I simply caved. When in Rome, I figured.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t continue to have some very awkward moments.
Like the time one acquaintance hugged me so hard it was really a headlock. I was impaled by my own earring. After pulling the earring post from my neck and sopping up the drop of blood, I tried to avoid having to be hugged by that person forever afterwards. Unfortunately, that was impossible one night when I had to sit by him at a dinner event. He hugged me so hard and so often my neck was sore from being yanked to his side repeatedly and when I got home it took me an hour to explain to my husband why the pungent odor of men’s cologne wafting from my hair was not, in fact, any indication of my having cheated on him.
Besides being stabbed with one’s own earring, the more important reason I think hugging and business don’t mix is that it does not make negotiating contracts any easier – for either party. I know, you think the camaraderie brings parties closer, eases discussions – “Hey, we bonded over the breaking of bread. Let’s do business.”
Maybe. But to myself I’m thinking, “You poked me with my own earring and now a I’m not stopping until I get a 20% reduction in your fee.”
Here’s an interesting book I probably should have read years ago: Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers
There’s no doubt part of my professional success was pure, dumb luck. I happened to be in the right place at the right time – a couple of times. I happened to know people who were willing to help and mentor me. But I’m pretty sure a large piece of me is a “nice girl” based on the definitions in this book. I got the corner office, though achieving that level of success wasn’t easy and I’ve certainly had periods where I felt my job was forcing me to go against my natural grain.
In fact, one of the chapters in this book is titled “Not Asking Questions for Fear of Sounding Stupid”. That hit a little too close to home because literally – just this morning – I had emailed a friend about how it would never enter my mind to send someone I don’t know a question by email about our business almost exclusively for the fear of sounding stupid. Is it a girl thing? Or is it just a shyness issue? Both of which are terms that have applied to me my entire life. Shy. Girl.
I’m also very much an introvert – also not an easy thing to overcome in a corporate environment but I found ways to adapt.
This didn’t turn out as a post on how women cope in the corporate environment but I can see looking back at my career that there were challenges I had to deal with as a woman that men would never have dreamed of having to handle. Had I found a book like this earlier in my career, some things might have been easier and some issues I had to deal with might have made a whole lot more sense.