Business Etiquette: Is A Social Kiss Appropriate?


Politicians do it. Europeans do it. Professional female tennis players do it. Should you do it with colleagues? When is the cheek kiss appropriate? Where do you draw the line?

Being fascinated with the ever-evolving workplace etiquette, I was drawn to this recent article The Delicate Protocol of Hugging in the Wall Street Journal about hugging and whether hugs in the office or even social settings are appropriate. Many of the comments firmly sided on no hugging in social or business settings, full stop. Professional interactions should begin and end with a handshake.

During my tenure in corporate America I experienced workplace environments ranged from the very formal to the informal. My first job out of college was with a large computer manufacturer where there were no hugs whatsoever. Handshakes were barely used.  The closest I got to a colleague’s personal space happened on a business trip with my boss. She was wearing a cast on her foot and one morning asked me to help her put a stocking over her cast. While it was nothing more than what a shoe salesman might do, she was clearly uncomfortable and asked that I not speak of this with any of our colleagues.

Many years later working in advertising the environment is more informal. I formed close friendships with co-workers that still exist today. It became the norm (for the opposite sex) to hug each other, shoulders touching only, and to cheek kiss. Beside the annual office holiday party these gestures were typically reserved for social settings, rarely were they used in the office. If it happened in the office it was either to express joy (promotion), sadness (loss) or with someone I hadn’t seen in a long while.

Over the past few days, I took note of how I interact with colleagues. By and large, it’s very professional predominately using handshakes. I did have lunch with a colleague who I don’t work with often. When I met her at the restaurant we did a cheek kiss and hug with only our shoulders touching. The second happened a day later at a fund-raising event I attend with a co-worker. I greeted her with cheek kiss and shoulder hug. Later that day in the office when I saw her it was all business, no hug or cheek kiss.

I have found that my professional relationships have changed over the years. As I’ve matured and relationships have deepened, it feels natural to move beyond the handshake. But only with those where there is a kinship. Ultimately, whether you handshake, hug or cheek kiss comes down to the company culture and how close of a relationship you have with you co-workers.

I’m sure this will be an ongoing topic for years to come especially as the dynamics of the workplace change with the next generation.


  1. Emily Seng

    I’ve never kissed anyone other than a family in the cheek before. I did once for the first time to an coworker (an older gentleman) who I respect a lot. It was a long and hectic day at work and it just sort of happened when we gave each other a hug. Was it rude & unprofessional of me to do it or was it showing him that I respect & appreciate him? Do I apologize or forget it ever happened?

    1. Peter C. Diamond

      Hi Emily,

      As I mentioned in my blog post, it’s not uncommon for colleagues who know each other to exchange a light kiss on the cheek. Whether you need to apologize depends on how he responded. It doesn’t sound like he recoiled. I would let it go. If you begin to feel a distance in your relationship, then you can broach the subject.

      I hope this helps.