Men Kissing and Holding Hands at Work?

Organizational culture Respect Well-being


Key Point: Open yourself up! You and I have a view of the world. It is just one view. As we emotionally and spiritually mature, we fully recognize that everyone has a unique interpretation of the world, and we are at our best when we accept and open ourselves to all points.

I had a friend who traveled extensively in the 1970’s. I remember him telling me about an odd experience, well in advance of today’s much greater gender self-security. He told how it was both awkward and satisfying for him to have a young man from Bali, Indonesia (at that time) naturally grab and hold his hand as they strolled conversing down the beach. It took everything he had to relax and recognize the other’s handclasp was a personal cultural compliment. It had nothing to do with sexual orientation, and everything to do with cultural orientation.

Recently, I listened to a CBC radio show where an Ethiopian man talked about how he and his best friend used walk and hold hands when they took a lunch break at work. Both immigrated to Canada and lost track of where the other settled. They ran into each other unexpectedly on the streets of Winnipeg. The man being interviewed by the CBC described how he joyfully kissed his friend on both cheeks and naturally grabbed the other’s hands. The friend recoiled and withdrew, explaining sheepishly that he didn’t want to be accused of being gay on the sidewalks of Canada. The interviewee explained how embarrassed he felt and remembers putting his hands in his pockets as the conversation stumbled on. He then went on to eloquently explain that the West might be missing something, by not accepting this level of communication intimacy.

In both examples above, the men comfortable holding the hands of other men were Muslim and it is not only common, but also desirable for men in the Islamic culture to hold hands to facilitate a deeper personal connection. Although far more secular, men holding hands is also much more common in the Chinese culture, especially amongst teens and young adults. In the Western cultures however, especially the UK, US, Canada, and Australia, men greeting each other with a kiss and holding hands during conversation is not a normal part of how communication occurs. Hugs, on the other hand, are more acceptable and common.

In fact, in these days of the “man hug,” perhaps male intimacy in the West is becoming less uptight. There is good reason for men to be more physically comfortable with their friends. Recent research by Sydney University has found that men who hug more often are both healthier and happier. Physical contact with others is important for well-being. Hugging can even release a hormone called oxytocin in the brain, making people feel more secure, less stressed and less anxious. Handholding can do the same.

Character Moves:

  1. I’m a hugger. I like the physical contact with others. But in spite of research in support of hugging, the character move here is to better understand and accept the worldview of others. Some of it is cultural. In other cases, it is entirely personal.
  2. Do not take for granted that your world perspective is the “right one.” There are people who I would naturally hug but are very UNCOMFORTABLE with me putting my arm around their shoulders. I need to be aware and respect that.
  3. Ideally our organizations can accommodate and include the varied and unique intimacy and communication orientation of all associates. As the world becomes closer and flatter, understanding and acceptance of the many worldviews will be a source of strength. The world is becoming more about the inclusion of differences while uniting those differences towards the shared intent of the advancement of humankind.

Hugging in The Triangle,