What if I told you that the next time you walk into a business meeting, you should turn down that stiff handshake and embrace your client (potentially a complete stranger) with a compassionate, embracive, six second hug… crazy, right? Well, as best-selling author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek first proposed, simple human touch can have a massive impact on the way we value and view others. All human interaction and emotion can be broken down into a simple chain of chemical reactions in the brain. We call these four chemicals: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin. So what happens when you embrace another human being with a six second hug? Science can help shine a light.
Endorphins are our body’s “feel-good” chemicals, released from the pituitary gland, which induce feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Dopamine, on the other hand, motivates us towards an end goal and increases when we accomplish certain tasks. Serotonin is responsible for surging feelings of happiness and elation, while Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that plays a huge role in human bonding, and is released, for example, when we kiss or hug another person.
So, as we approach the six second mark of a hug, the human brain begins to release enhanced levels of serotonin and oxytocin, which promotes bonding and boosts your mood. This physical connection literally forces the body to feel better; the longer the hug, the higher the level of chemical release. In fact, the six second hug has gained notable exposure and publicity around the globe. It’s been proven to help repair failing marriages, and even change the criminal behaviour of inmates in prisons. Yet, throughout the decades, the hug has yet to break down the stiff, archaic codes of office interaction. That is – until now.
Breaking Down the Barriers… Physically
Let’s wind the clock back to October 2015, when my business partner and I found ourselves socialising at LinkedIn’s annual Talent Connect conference in Anaheim, California, an exciting venue for some of the world’s most electrifying and inspiring business minds. For a few years leading up to the event, we had attempted to break down the barriers of “professional” business etiquette by hugging others – clients, colleagues and prospective contacts at various events. At the Hubspot Inbound conference in 2014, for example, the six second hug allowed us to meet some amazing contacts, most notably our now good friends (and Hubspot experts) Rachael O’Higgins and Kieran Flanagan.
The Talent Connect conference at Anaheim, however, stood as the perfect opportunity to conduct a large-scale social experiment based on Sinek’s theory. Would the science of the six second hug really ring true at such a massive event?
As we peered out the window of our plane at 38,000 feet, hurtling towards our destination at great speeds, we were excited at the prospect of what lay ahead. We figured that the six second hug would definitely serve as a unique and quirky ice-breaker, but would strangers be receptive to a six second hug during a professional business function? These questions and doubts hung heavy in the air.
Hugging Gets a Hashtag
The day came and we arrived at the event bright and early. As we meandered our way through the passing crowds, like the twist of a river bending its way across the landscape, we greeted each new contact with outstretched arms. Some laughed, some stood in shock and others grinned, but everyone felt a connection. Before long, we began to see pangs of disappointment on the faces of even the biggest men if we didn’t include them in a hug. It seemed the science was working to a tee.
Soon word began to spread among the throngs of people, and as we made contact after contact, we started to notice a tangible difference in the level of our connections and the depth of our conversations. Twitter lit up with ‘#ssh,’ an acronym for the six second hug, and a symbol for our quirky way to build meaningful relationships. One of the most exciting moments of the day was having a great chat with JT O’Donnell, a massive social influencer on LinkedIn (she currently boasts over one million followers!), a CEO, professional coach and all around great person. The six second hug brought us together in a unique way, and we’ve remained friends ever since.
As the day passed and the sun began to fade behind the rolling California hills, it struck us that people are surprisingly open to hugs. Not only is hugging a nice encapsulation of human emotion, but it actually makes us feel better – physically and mentally. Happiness and security are crucial to business relationships, especially if you’re looking to stand out from the crowd and leaving a lasting impact on others. By the time the day was out, we’d proven that Simon Sinek’s science of hugging was true, and we had an array of exciting new business contacts to prove it.
The Wider Scope
My industry – digital marketing – relies on technology to succeed. However, the very nature of technology itself has the tendency to hinder human connection and emotion. All around, we see technology playing greater roles in the way business is conducted and how organisations are run. To ensure the human element isn’t lost, we’ve carried the underlying message of the six second hug through to all of our business affairs. Now known as the “digital huggers,” we try to ensure that, in an age driven by technology, the basic, fundamental tenets of human emotion and nature are not lost.
In business, sometimes the most effective tactics are also the most basic. Hugging is a positive human interaction and it keeps us happy within ourselves and mindful of others. Positivity, security and respect are essential canons of business that can steer us towards our goals and help others along the way.
So, I dare you – the next time you meet someone new in your professional environment, give them a hug. At the very least, you’ll experience a positive, healthy rush of Serotonin and Oxytocin and instantly have something to discuss and bond over. Moreover, you’ll achieve what any shrewd business leader dreams of: differentiating yourself from the crowd by creating a lasting impact in the minds of others.
By Bryan Adams, Founder & CEO of Ph.Creative