02/11/2016 12:56 EST | Updated 02/11/2017 05:12 EST

Sticky Situation: Valentine's Day, Air-Kissing And Hugging At The Office

Since etiquette is a cultural issue, when you are the visitor travelling abroad, it's up to you to adapt. Greet according to regional customs. Do your homework. Ask the expert. Follow your host's lead.

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Photo of kissing woman in red on white background

Sticky situation:

Here we are, just at a few days before Valentine's Day.

In addition to the traditional paper or modern virtual Valentine, you're probably envisioning that you'll exchange a kiss or hug with your beloved, your children and even your friends. And that's a good thing. Long live love!

Speaking of affection, you asked:

"What about air-kissing or even hugging in business, Julie? Is it appropriate and, if so, when and how?"

Here's the short of it. Although we are in the era of globalization when la bise and hugging are practiced among some world leaders, the handshake is the salutation of choice.

Ahh, interesting, you say. If you're from Québec or conduct business in Québec, you may be surprised. Read on for the need-to-knows.

As I mentioned in my books, conferences and workshops, etiquette may be defined as: when in Rome, do as the Romans.

Remember that etiquette evolves. In North America, in Canada, in our workplaces and in your company; in Winnipeg, St-John's, Toronto or downtown Montreal -- the contemporary business greeting of choice is still the handshake. No matter where you are on the continent, who your visitor, client or colleague is, the handshake is the only universally acceptable touch in business. And as you know, that is not trivial.

By offering a handshake in North America, you will never offend anyone.

Interesting to know

The folkloric origins of this greeting are credited to knights in Medieval times. When meeting or sealing alliances, they seized the other's right hand, the favoured one for the handling of weapons. With a slight shake, a gentle pump, they confirmed the absence of daggers and ultimately non-threatening intentions, but those of peace and transparency.

Contemporary Canadian business practices recognize that all employees are equal, regardless of gender or culture diversity. Therefore, all men and women should be greeted equally.

Yes, there are exceptions: according to your organizational culture, that of your industry or your relationships.

But beware. When making an exception, you may be sending the wrong impression to the others. Never discriminate within the same group. If you air-kiss or hug, do so with all in the group. You're getting queasy just thinking about doing so with that certain someone in the group? Don't do it. Stick to the handshake. By shaking hands with all, all will feel that they will be treated fairly, equally, without any perception of favouritism.

I hear you Ma'am, you have a question:

"What if he leans in a little, looks at my face, joins his lips and I know it, I feel it, I'm sure he's coming in for an air-kiss or a hug... And I'm not comfortable? Yikes. What can I do?"

Rest assured, you will never make a blunder by diplomatically deflecting to the handshake. You have the right to maintain and stay in your professional bubble.

When needed, here's how to restore the balance of pow-her (yes, this tactic also works for men):

• As soon as you see the signs of a kiss or hug, retreat somewhat slightly by stepping back.

• Make eye contact and smile.

• Offer your right hand and shake firmly, professionally.

• Add "I'm delighted to see you again" or something of the sort.

I know, I also experience this, it's not that easy, but doable and beneficial.

There may be discomfort, certainly. But better this discomfort produced by the other, than to being uncomfortable and setting the tone and norm for future meetings.

Since etiquette is a cultural issue, when you are the visitor travelling abroad, it's up to you to adapt. Greet according to regional customs. Do your homework. Ask the expert. Follow your host's lead.

Of course, socially, it is perfectly acceptable to greet family, friends and within an association or grouping by hugging and kissing.

While I'm at it, to avoid nose-to-nose collisions, here's the air-kissing protocol:

1. Lean to the left.

2. Barely make contact with the other; right cheek to right cheek.

3. Pucker your lips.

4. Silently smooch in the air.

5. Now, move to the right, repeat 2, 3 and 4.

6. Finish the greeting heart to heart. Ahhhh ☺.

Note: especially in a business setting, avoid full contact with the other's cheeks and lip smacking sounds.

Interesting to know

The origins of air-kissing relate to physical well-being. Kissing family members, mornings and evenings, enabled parents to detect digestive or health problems from unusual body or breath odours.

In closing, since Valentine's Day is in just a few days, unless you are a couple in family and work life, at work, limit yourself to:

• Fill your candy dish with those sweet cinnamon hearts (for sanitary reasons, make sure to add a spoon);

• Bring in heart-shaped homemade cookies;

• Wear a red accessory;

• Say how much you love your job;

• Show your customers how much you appreciate them; and

• Wish all a "Good weekend and happy Valentine's Day" when leaving Friday evening.

Otherwise, the detailed plans of your romantic getaway, the perfect gift you bought or the desired proposal that you are wishing for are not ideal water cooler conversations topics and may be considered TMI by your team mates.

Want more solutions? Visit Julie's website, like her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter and here in the Huffington Post. Order your autographed copy of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Or, invite her to facilitate a workshop for your team. "Bye-bye embarrassment and faux-pas. Hello confidence and credibility."

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