Handshakes Are Here Again
I don’t need to remind anyone why the business world —nay, the entire world — abruptly abandoned the custom of proffering a hand for any of the reasons in the definition above.
As the pandemic grew in wave after wave, variant after variant, most people became wary. Wary of contact, getting too close, and touching germy hands.
Handshakes were out, fist bumps were in, and elbow taps became ‘de rigueur’.
Some folks who were never fond of handshaking in the first place were actually quite pleased with this turn of events. When you think about it, hands are one of the least hygienic parts of the body. And often responsible for the spread of common ailments like norovirus (yay, diarrhoea!) and rhinovirus (the common cold).
Quite a few experts also think that the hygiene habits of more people than you think are questionable at best. Anyone who has ever witnessed the number of people who exit the public toilets without a visit to the sink to wash their hands can attest to this.
In The Beginning
In business, some offices and the events that continued to go ahead displayed their handshake policy loud and clear with obvious signage. No handshaking was the order of the day.
If a hand did wander forward in anticipation, individuals would politely refuse to shake hands if they weren’t comfortable. And what before would be seen as a personal slight was now widely accepted. A case of, “Well, it’s their personal choice.” And nobody took particular offence.
Others decided that if they were certain the person was vaccinated then they were okay with it. If they weren’t, not so much.
Then there were those who couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. They eagerly carried on handshaking with those willing to reciprocate.
In the beginning, before the vaccines were approved, there was a lot of uncertainty about the avenues of this novel viral spread. So hesitancy seemed logical back then. But with Omicron on the wane for the most part and no current rivals for ‘variant of the moment’ many countries have lowered their guard. Thye have eliminated mandates and people are carrying on since most of us have immunity. Sure, there may be boosters and new variants in the future. Nobody can know for certain, but for now, things are fairly routine at least here in the UK.
What Now For Handshakes?
It’s become a bit of an etiquette nightmare. Handshake roulette, really. To shake or not to shake? If you’re going to shake, who offers first? What’s the politest way to decline?
According to an article on APnews, the handshake that has been around for centuries is believed to have originated to prove that a person was not holding a hidden weapon and was instead offering peace.
In today’s climate, one might argue that those very same empty hands were holding a hidden weapon in microscopic, viral form.
Some experts think the decline of the handshake is a great thing. Precisely because of that aforementioned germ spread and questionable hygiene.
Other experts think it’s overblown. If you are vaccinated and concerned about hand germs, just wash your hands more often. Avoid touching your face (easier said than done since we do this hundreds of times a day absentmindedly). And carry hand sanitiser discreetly. Nobody wants to shake hands courteously only to see someone whip out a little bottle and sanitise their hands like you’ve got cooties.
There were plenty of articles that declared the handshake dead in the water, never to return. This, of course, is rubbish. It will slowly make a comeback and is already on its way.
It’s been a way of life for humankind for centuries. A practice that has never gone out of fashion. It has already survived pandemics and undoubtedly will once again.
But what is certain is that there will no longer be an expectation that EVERYONE will want to handshake. Regardless of the setting or scenario. It will be acceptable to politely decline and adopt alternative ways of greeting people in both professional and personal settings. It’s no no longer the preserve of folks with OCD and clinically diagnosed germaphobes.
No, the field has certainly changed in this respect.
So What Happens Next?
If you’re not sure how to read the room, wait for the other person to make the first move. The problem with this advice is that if everyone waits nothing happens. So that isn’t always effective either!
If you’re the one squirrelly about the prospect of a handshake, say so up front. No harm no foul. Others just ask at the beginning if you’d prefer to shake or not. So the palm-sized elephant in the room is addressed without any awkward pauses or false starts.
It sounds ridiculous to be writing an article about this very topic, but hey, here at Tricres we’re topical!
In business, it has always been the rule of thumb that professionals greet with a firm handshake and good eye contact. You have acknowledged your colleague, client, or partner. Whoever it may be that you are present and cordial with, someone to trust and work with.
I’m not an expert on etiquette, infectious disease transmission, or reading people’s minds. But I do think that whatever your opinion on the matter, we’ve been through enough that it should be pointless to judge a person at this stage on whether they shake your hand or not.
The shake isn’t a guarantee you will or won’t work with someone, gain or lose a client, make or break a working relationship. At least I hope not.
The point is that the handshake is back from the realm of disapproving looks, recoiling forearms, and pursed lips that say, ‘Hell, no.” Humans crave contact with others, it’s a part of our DNA.
Even though there are plenty of reasons why hand contact could be construed as quite gross on a micro-level, it’s nothing a little hand gel or soap and water can’t handle.
The handshake is back, baby. Reach out and touch someone — if you want to.