To Shake or Not to Shake? That’s the New Question

Declared dead just a year ago by media, health experts and this blog, handshakes are gradually returning as the greeting of choice for business. Thanks Dr. Fauci, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Purell.

None of the alternatives we’ve tried over the past 16 months – elbow bump, head nod, hand wave and peace sign – carry the same level of friendly greeting as the handshake that dates back to ancient times.

Not everyone is entirely comfortable with full return to the handshaking tradition, especially since 30% of the U.S. population and much of the world are not yet vaccinated. Having just made two trips to other parts of the country, I also observed handshakes play out differently depending on location and circumstances.

For those of us out of practice, I asked several friends who recently greeted me with extended hands to share their insights and tips for effective handshaking.

Banking executive Michael Siurek cited “geographical and relationship factors,” noting he sees no resistance to handshaking in rural areas while the practice is far less likely so far in cities. In other words, know your audience. He suggests leading with a “virtual handshake motion” from a distance that can be converted to an actual handshake by the other party. He also thinks fist bumps work especially well with most people you don’t see regularly.

Healthcare sales executive Lucas Felt advises to “take it slow.” Don’t automatically expect to get an extended hand, but be ready to respond.”

Asked for their #1 handshaking advice, PR legends Harlan Teller and John LaSage weighed in right away by recommending the old standby — “a firm grip.” And Harlan suggests a dry hand. John added that a firm grip conveys confidence.

Lucas Felt’s handshaking tips: 1) Be confident and sturdy — “If you’re going in you’ve got to commit.” 2) Hold eye contact with a slight smile. “Even if they don’t look at you it sends a sign that you are present for them.” 3) “It’s not a strong person contest-grip as hard as it takes to open a large door, 2 seconds tops.” Edelman’s global recruitment director Julie Biber agrees with eye contact and firm handshake. She also recommends starting and closing conversations with a handshake.

Consultant/educator Diane Rubino raised an important point: “What do you suggest for the person who is uncertain what they want or wants to opt out? Any suggestions for graceful handling?” I would love to hear other thoughts, but I recommend a sincere smile and wave as you keep a more-than-two-arms-length distance from the individual you’re meeting. That’s how I recently greeted someone who refuses to get vaccinated.

Once society agrees on the status of handshaking, we’ll hopefully be able to consider the eventual return of social hugs.

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

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