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How to handle a graceful hello

A botched public greeting can easily become an embarrassing and cringeworthy moment. Here's how to avoid the pitfalls.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Feb 19, 2015, 11.37 AM IST
When Obama and Modi hugged during the US President's recent India visit, tongues wagged about Obama's awkward grasp. And, they hugged again and again...
When Obama and Modi hugged during the US President's recent India visit, tongues wagged about Obama's awkward grasp. And, they hugged again and again...
We've all had t hat awkward moment where you wonder whether to give someone a hug or a handshake, only to find that the person you're greeting isn't ready for what you're about to offer.

The uncomfortable side step only embarrasses further. To minimise discomfort, ETPanache tells you how to handle a hello.

People watch

To hug or not to hug — that is the question, and the answer is that it depends on the person. The first step to avoiding an uncomfortable greeting is to gauge the body language. Do they look relaxed? Are they smiling? Then go in for a hug. If, however, they look rigid and stiff, stick to a handshake.

What, when, how

But, if you're meeting a business associate for the first time (no matter how many emai l s were exchanged) it's best to skip the hug. Chhaya Momaya, image consultant, says, "Hugging i s betwe en family members and close friends, limited to social occasions, whereas a handshake is done with b u s i n e s s partners or a c qua i nt -ances, when people are introduced ."

Oops... I did it

But, say that in your eagerness to greet the person, you have already gone in for a hug — don't stop halfway. Commit yourself to the hug, but make it quick. Momaya says, "If you are hugging a business associate, do not keep it long, as it may indicate you are trying to prove a closeness that is nonexistent. A hug should not last for more than a few seconds."

Damage control

It's too late, you've gone in for a long hug while all your business partner was expecting was a handshake. While it is a moment of embarrassment, don't let it show on your face. Sucheta Pal, personality development consultant advises, "If such an awkward situation arises, laugh it off, address the situation and apologise. Make sure your handshake is firm after that." The key here is to throw in a small chuckle instead of remaining poker-faced.


Sometimes you even get caught in something that you have no idea how you got into, and worst of all, no idea how to get out of. But if like American secretary of state John Kerry and French President François Hollande, you suddenly find yourself holding hands, do not panic. The best way to deal with these situations is to put your free hand on the other person's shoulder and extract the offending hand from grip with a laugh.

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