When does goodbye become a hug…work colleagues?

I find hugging to be such an interesting aspect of life.  Interactions with friends and family all seem to have unwritten rules of conduct built in, with each person adapting the rules according to their personality and level of relationship with people.  Yet in each interaction, there is an inevitable moment of goodbye in which we may be left reflecting on what did or didn’t occur.  We may be left feeling a post goodbye connection with somebody, or we may be left with a slight sense of disconnection, depending on how we said goodbye.


I recently attended a social event with work colleagues and the inevitable unknown of ‘goodbye’ arrived.  For the majority of the year, workplace goodbyes are kept to a nod of the head, some passing words of good wishes for the weekend, and generally pretty formal.  All of a sudden, a social event, a ‘works do’ brings us together in a different time and space, and goodbye becomes a whole other ball game.  There often seems to be two approaches to these moments. 

One approach is the group departure, when everybody leaves at the same time.  This ending is tricky as invariably, there will be people in the group who are huggers.  All of a sudden, there is a moment of wonder as colleagues work out just where their friendship is at.  Sometimes, I find myself at the end of a line or circle of people, everybody else prior to me has hugged, so the person and I approach each other within a thought of, ‘well, here we are, everybody else has hugged and though this feels a little different and awkward to our usual interactions, it would almost be awkward not to hug...let’s just go for it’.  Admittedly, this sort of deliberation seems to occur more often in male-female interactions.  Male colleagues generally go for the handshake, though even this has the potential to progress into a sports style shoulder to shoulder hug, and in moments of closeness or merry influence, a “man hug” may occur - though it’s also true that some male-female and female-female interactions, depending on the nature of the workplace interaction, specifically in relation to the perceived level of authority in the relationship, may also be suited to a handshake.  Of course, I write from a male point of view and I could have things completely wrong; it would be interesting to hear whether females encounter this moment of hesitation when saying goodbye to each other?

However, returning to the case of a potential hugging type of relationship; there are times when I have been at the start of the goodbye line (or circle).  All of a sudden, the pressure is on to determine just what style of goodbye this is going to be.  In a moment of awkwardness, I play it overly safe and don’t go for a hug, and yet, I’m then left to watch as the departed enters into a hug with everybody else, and part of me is left feeling as if I’m then slightly disconnected – deep down, I wish I’d gone for the hug. 

The other type of departure is the individual departure, i.e., when somebody exits a group but everybody else will still be remaining.  I find goodbyes become more distant in these situations.  There's a moment when I realise, ‘if I hug one person who I know well, how do I say goodbye to other people without offending them’.  Sometimes there’s a work colleague who you just really don’t know, or somebody has brought somebody as a friend or family member, and a hug may seem inappropriate, so I find it easier to just give a holistic goodbye.  This is carried out by kind of speaking and waving to the group as a whole, “okay, see you later”, and retreating out of the situation in a swift fashion.  Yet, I then feel slightly disconnected from the person who I am closest to, who I have spent the evening chatting with but who I included in this holistic goodbye.  I may end up trying to send a text, in hope of some way trying to cement and confirm the enjoyable connection that we formed through the evening.


What I’ve come to realise and accept is that there are varying levels of goodbye, and it's just about feeling and trusting in undertaking the appropriate level of goodbye – it’s all about finding the balance.  There are times when merely verbally saying goodbye feels right, perhaps because I’ve only just met somebody.  But sometimes I may not even say goodbye to such a person, and I walk away feeling slightly off within myself - not in an overly bad way, but as if my inner sense realised that I didn’t connect with that person during our goodbye in the way that was right for us.  I believe part of this off-feeling will not only be from our own internal feeling, but will also be due to conscious and unconscious communication with the other person.  Without saying it, it’s as if both you and the other know what you would like the goodbye to be, and if for various reasons this goodbye doesn't occur, you each silently communicate an awareness of this, even if we don’t consciously admit it.   The same thing may occur with somebody who I have a closer friendship with.  In this moment, the off feeling may occur because, even though we do actually say goodbye, we don’t hug, and internally, that’s where it felt our relationship had progressed to in this social engagement – perhaps we were already social acquaintances outside of work.  

I don’t feel there are any set rules or levels of friendship where we can say, “okay, we are in the hugging zone now”, I think we just feel it, our internal worlds are aware of it.


So what are the “various reasons” which may prevent our true goodbyes occurring?  It’s hard to answer this question as, though there may be general common aspects, it truly will be an individual thing.  It will also depend on the type of relationship between colleagues.  But, even without going into the details, it is safe to say that a large portion will relate to worrying about what the other person and/or people around us may think.  Again, this may be conscious, but it may also be unconscious.  We may not necessarily cognitively think “what if they don’t want to hug me, or say goodbye, or shake hands etc.”, but we internalise this.  So, I feel it can be useful to try and reduce this process of worry or care from our thoughts.  When saying goodbye, if we tune in and just let things flow, whether this is making the effort to cross over to the other side of the room and tell a colleague that you really enjoyed meeting and talking with them this evening and that you look forward to talking again, or if you’ve had a personal and meaningful conversation with a colleague you know well and feel like a hug would be nice, even if only a quick brief hug, rather than an all embracing hug, trust this feeling.  Next time you say goodbye at a work social, watch your feeling, let your thoughts float away, and go with the flow of goodbye.  If it doesn’t quite feel right, never mind, perhaps we’ll get it right next time.  If you’re unsure, as can often be the case, maybe literally ask the person, “how shall we say goodbye?” and the unspoken mutual understanding may be given words and subsequent action.  Don’t get me wrong, a hug is not always appropriate, even if one person wants it, the other may feel it’s important to keep a boundary.  But I think we truly pick up on this.  Your inner sense will pick it out.


All I can say is that there are times when I’ve not undertaken a goodbye - whether a nod of the head, a handshake or a hug - and felt a missed connection with somebody.  Connecting with other people is something I feel can be important for our well-being and it can bring a great unitary experience to each of our lives if we trust ourselves to find (and carry out) the right balance of goodbye.


In fact, I would say this process can be applied to all aspects of goodbyes, whether friends, family or work colleagues.  I suppose there are just so many factors which add to the fascinating question…when do I hug my colleagues?