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The Startup Bro's Guide To Human Interaction

Advice on encountering women, dude hugs, and the mystery of the handshake, from the internet's startup watering hole.

Posted on May 16, 2013, at 11:33 a.m. ET

It all started with a simple post by an entrepreneur named Shane Snow: "Hug vs. Handshake: Navigating salutations as an (attempted) non-creepy dude." It posed a series of simple questions. And the users of Hacker News, one of the internet's largest forums for programmers, startup types and developers, had answers.

"Social interaction is probably the most complicated thing we do. Even as engineers," wrote one commenter. And so, drawing from their advice and debates, we present: The Offical Hacker News Guide to Human Interaction.

Enter every human encounter with hand in the high five position

I try to short-circuit awkwardness by putting my hand up to high-five people. If there's someone between handshake and hug, I've found that gesture is comfortable enough for most, explains the situation without saying anything, and gives everyone a way out. Your mileage may vary.

In case of an emergency, wave

If you're really feeling awkward, start out with a hand wave as you approach the person... either they'll wave back, or try to initiate a handshake/hug with you. Either way it's a good enough greeting for friends and co-workers alike.


Visualize a handshake, and then if necessary, soft hug

What I do is imagine I'm going for a handshake, if their arm extends it's likely they're looking for a handshake, otherwise turn it into a soft hug!
(Thank god I'm not the only one who worries about this.)

Go full-on Brogrammer

Time to wake up that bro courage and start fist-bumping people ;)


Even if that means a mid-motion switcheroo

I offer a hug to anyone who I'm not in a professional relationship with. Most people seem to like this, and if they don't, I switch to a 'bro hug' in mid-motion. Nice and simple.

Note: doesn't apply to dentists

I'll never forget the time I accidentally gave my dentist a bro shake. You should have seen how excited he got. Poor lonely dentists...

Exude confidence (or at least try)

Edit: just do whatever you do with confidence and a smile. Doesn't really matter after that.


Accept that your girlfriend's friends are a mystery

I've been in a situation where my girlfriend's friends … do the air cheek kiss thing. Its really confusing because I'm never sure if they are coming in for a hug or an air cheek kiss. Its hard to try to 'take charge' and initiate something otherwise because I start to feel like I'm about to be rude by doing something different and get more awkward.

Be on the lookout for manipulative flirts

There are some who use physical contact as a tool for foisting a temporary intimacy onto another party that use used for one degree or another of manipulation...I know it's done in good part because it often works, to greater or lesser degree. But, I for one find it annoying as hell because it is not genuine, and/or it seeks to exercise a degree of control and manipulation I do not welcome.


Go with the high five and experiment with adding a joke

[Of] course It is not perfect all the time, but I find [the high five] useful in team and personal-world situations all the time. Sometimes, if i'm feeling really campy, i say "good game" too (if it is at the end of something).

Or use the hugshake

Go for the one arm hug. It's half handshake half hug, it's a hugshake.


Don’t spread germs

Switch it up to a fist bump - often makes people laugh, specially if it's an uptight business situation + it's more hygenic....

Telegraph your intentions

I like to use spacing here. There's a sweet spot between hug distance and handshake distance where you can often read which the other person wants to go for and likewise telegraph to them which one you have in mind. A barely perceptible move back and shake or a gentle move in and hug, or perhaps something else entirely. Body language is your friend. This comment originally started as an analogy to striking distance and grappling distance in a fight, but I couldn't make it read unsatirically.


Do not fake it

A primary problem I have with any sort of bodily contact: When it is not genuine. (And my intuition is pretty good on this point.) Where this perhaps becomes a problem for me is when I correspondingly cannot "fake it", whether that be a "firm, engaging" handshake, or hug (ugh...), or whatever. Hugging someone with whom I don't have some level of intimacy? In significant part an exercise in not pressing the wrong body parts together. Hugging someone who is a real friend? A momentary welcoming of their physical presence and comfort in same. So, to summarize: Welcome contact comes from being respectful and cognizant of our relationship (or lack thereof)

Throw arms in the air, but don't stall.

My strategy: Approaching from a bit of a distance with arms down look happy and kind of throw your arms out - half "this could turn into a hug" half "I'm just excited to see you." If they reach out a hand, shake it. If they reciprocate, go in for the hug. If they don't, stay safe with the handshake. The point is to give them time and opportunity to react with body language rather than speech, but not so much time that everyone's stuck thinking about it and upping the awkward factor.


Use clear intent with the "Urban Greeting" to avoid the dreaded ball-and-socket move

After a few misguided attempts at executing the 'urban greeting,' I have since made a conscious effort to demonstrate clear intent upon encountering an acquaintance. In other words, I make sure my hand is clearly oriented in either handshake or urban greeting ready position. Simply put, it's like partner dancing - one must lead for the other to follow, or else you'll end up with the 'ball-and-socket' when one goes for the fist bump and the other for the handshake/high five.

If you mess up, change the subject immediately.

If it does get awkward just change the subject and move on. You'll both forget about it in a few minutes.

Or embrace your mistakes

Contrary I even find a little misunderstanding about greeting protocol on a first meeting being a good ice breaker.


In the chance encounter with female CEO apply the Hillary Clinton Rule

Would you hug Hilary Clinton if you've met her on two or three different occasions? Of course not. And it's the same for the female CEO of a major bank. So then, why would you hug a female work associate that you've only met twice?
Answer: you don't hug Mrs. Clinton or the female CEO because you respect them too much.

Cliff Owen / AP

Or just freeze until the female acts first

Isn't the social norm to wait for a woman to initiate the handshake? The norm doesn't specify the timeout but to me it comes naturally to just nod and say hello after the "moment" I am convinced the timeout happened.

As a male interacting with a female, waiting for the other party to initiate any physical contact is the best bet. If they want to hug you, they'll do it


Do not force male to male rituals on women (even if it makes you sad inside)

Hand shaking with a woman always seems to me like I'm forcing a male to male ritual on the situation. No matter how formal the meeting is, it always seems off. Now, granted, I'm not going to hug the female CEO of a company I'm doing business with at the first meeting, but even so, a handshake still feels off. My general rule of thumb is – if I'm comfortable with the person and she's a woman, it's a hug. If I'm not comfortable, it's a handshake and a small inner sigh at the inadequacy of it.

Return the incoming hug, even with women.

I have no problem with hugging but I really don't care - I never instigate it with males or females but have no problem returning a hug if one is incoming.


But watch out for random female huggers

What I find even more inappropriate is random women I talked to once suddenly thinking it is necessary to hug me. Really, no. We can shake hands if you insist, but a hug is an absolutely no-go unless you are closer than close family.

Don’t punch women

If you were really treating women equally to men, you wouldn't follow a "what's good for one is good for the other" policy. You'd accept that the norms and behaviors of each gender should be held in equal regard, and adapt your own behavior to the person or group of people you're talking with. Acknowledging, in other words, that women have as much right to be in the workplace as men, rather than treating their actions as somehow foreign or alien to the "acceptable" male norms. I mean, your simple and straightforward logic is the logic that four-year-old boys use when they want to punch girls on the playground and don't feel like being courteous.


Unless of course you punch guys

Why should I care about your chromosome configuration or sexual identification? It is not my business, and I expect you to respect that. Hence it is absolutely obvious to treat men and women equally and not adapt one's greetings procedures to the gender of the other person.
After all, punching girls is exactly as appropriate as punching guys.

Consider the no work-hug policy

Hugs are sexual harassment. Any unrequested contact with the opposite sex is cause for immediate termination (or expulsion if you're still in school) and may lead to criminal charges. Different cultures are different, but this is the standard drill repeated from elementary school onward through workplace policies in my part of the US. People routinely ignore it without punishment, but it's there hanging over the head of everyone.


Do NOT force someone to hug

Do not hug someone without asking first. Also, don't do the open-arms-moving-in-and-then-asking-for-a-hug. People who might feel uncomfortable hugging you now feel socially forced to.

And meet forceful huggers with a death stare

Hugs are for close family and I will make it very obvious that I don't want to hug you if you try.


Make a mental note if you offend someone

But seriously, as long as you greet sincerely with any action, you are highly unlikely to cause offense. Just note their reaction for future reference after. More importantly is how much personal space you give them after that point. A one-off strange greeting is almost always acceptable; occupying someone's personal space for an extended time is another matter entirely...
I hug all my friends, male and female. If they seem uncomfortable, I just make a mental note to shake their hand instead in the future.

Try to go with the flow

I generally let the other person initiate contact and just go with the flow. If you have any doubt, it's best to err on the side of handshakes.

Apply the same rules as you do for HN readership

It may feel awkward at first, but asking [whether they want to hug] is a form of showing respect. The worst that can happen is they say no. Maybe the best reason to do this is to practice consent culture in our everyday lives. As it relates to HN readership, consent culture would go a long way in improving the work [and convention] environment for women in technology.


Just ask for a hug

Ask the first time, and ask if you can hug them again in the future...If it looks like it is going to be weird, I try to ask people if they are a hand-shaker or a hugger. I am cool with whatever makes them comfortable.

Unless of course that creeps them out

In the UK (or at least among people I know, both personally and in work circles), asking if you can hug someone would be just about the most awkward thing you can do. Same with female. Never stopped to think about it, or discussed it, just happens


Recognize some people cannot read social cues.

Maybe some people can't read, or don't feel comfortable trying to read, the signs as to what will work socially, and if they want to set rules that's fine. I don't have any problem with someone who will only shake hands, or who won't have any physical contact at all - hell, if they want to follow your rule of always asking, I'd feel awkward, but if that's what you prefer then whatever, I'm fine with that. But don't assume everyone needs to follow your rule.

Or, the nuclear option: avoid all physical contact, always:

I don't like shaking hands (business handshakes are fine) or hugging unless it's a loved one or someone you are really close to and generally want to feel the embrace from the hug. Otherwise I think it's just pointless touching to signify some non-existant closeness. What's wrong with just saying "hi"? Or a friendly fist-bump if you want to do something more fun? I especially hate meeting a new group of people and having to shake every hand. It's so stupid.