Five Rules for Touching/Not-Touching Your Co-Workers

Etiquette Expert Gives Tips on What Kind of Touching at Work is Okay

In the wake of the recent controversy over former Vice President Joe Biden's penchant for touching people and how it made some women uncomfortable, etiquette expert Jodi Smith gave Quartz some tips for what kind of touching at work is okay and what it's best to stay away from. All this is separate, of course, from the kind of sexual harassment targeted in the #MeToo movement.

  • Keep a light touch-- Things like shaking hands, fist bumps, high fives, a light tap on the shoulder or a quick pat on the back are okay, but anything longer than a few seconds isn't. Don't touch any part of a co-worker's body that isn't their arms, shoulders or upper back.
  • Don't touch anyone's hair
  • Hugging-- Hugging is okay under certain conditions, but be aware of gender, age and power differences. For example, someone may feel they can't tell their boss they don't like to be hugged, and a 40-year-old man should just avoid hugging a 21-year-old female intern. If you do hug, don't give full-body embraces.
  • If you're the touchy-feely type-- Be "extraordinarily overt" about your communication style, and ask co-workers to let you know if they don't like being touched, saying you'll happily change your behavior and want to be told it you misstep. Be aware of people's body cues and keep your hands away if you sense discomfort.
  • How to handle touchy-feely colleagues-- Speak up, and step back if necessary to create physical distance.

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