Handling The Situation

Departments - Research

As society reopens and businesses attempt to return to normal, what will be your preferred method for greeting clients, associates and colleagues while the COVID-19 threat remains?

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July 27, 2020

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First impressions are everything. And in business, that traditionally has been the good old handshake. By now you're well versed in the routine to administer the "perfect" handshake:

Offer a cool, dry palm ... grip with fingers under the receiving palm ... a firm squeeze, but not too strong ... administer three shakes with a medium level of vigor.

While handshakes offered glimpses at an individual’s character, the COVID-19 virus and fears of transmitting the pandemic to ourselves or others tossed that out faster than hand sanitizer off a drugstore shelf.

A handshake’s first impressions say a lot about an individual and the depth of their confidence, says business coach Liz Uram. What people are looking for now in an alternative expression is a way to convey that same message of confidence. “We’re creatures of habit and we all want to shake hands or offer some sort of expression that breaks the ice and establishes that we’re there to do business,” she says.

So, as we attempt a return to normal, we asked Snow Magazine readers how they'd be handling the handshake's replacement and to weigh in on some of the more popular alternatives being tried out.

Surprisingly, nearly a third of respondents anticipate the handshake, while temporarily shelved, will never go out of style. The belief is once we have a cure or a proven treatment, people will go back to “pressing the flesh.“

"Right now, the handshake is a no-no,” says Kevin Gilbride, Executive Director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA). “And this is a sensitive issue because people have so many varying opinions about this unusual situation none of us have every experienced before. That’s why, for the time being, I suggest respecting others’ wishes about how they choose to express a greeting, even if that means to do nothing. However, personally, I believe once we get beyond the pandemic – and we will one day move past this – the handshake will quickly come back in style.”

Another third (30 percent) of respondents envision the handshake in business will go the way of the dodo and will be replaced with a pleasant smile, according to the research.

The fist bump and the arm bump – both widely seen as the acceptable substitutes for the handshake – only generated support from a small percentage of survey respondents. In fact, they tied at 8 percent, respectively.

While both forms of expression seem to have made their way as the preferred greeting in business circles, business coach Jill J. Johnson says she not a fan of either bumps. Instead, she suggests it’s important to offer an expression that is both appropriate to the setting and recognizes the depth of the relationship that you have with the individual standing across from you.

 

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“You can get by with a casual greeting if you’ve known the other person for a long time,” she says.

In lieu of some sort of physical contact, Johnson suggests keeping your hands at your sides and offering a head nod and a pleasant smile.

“The head nod offers the acknowledgement and the smile gives warmth to the interaction,” she says, adding both are appropriate when greeting a long-time associate or a first contact. “And be sure you make eye contact. This is huge. By not fixing your eyes on the person you’re greeting you’re saying, ‘You’re not important, so I’m looking around the room to find a person who is important.’”

And if you want to take it up a notch, Johnson offers saying “Hello” along with the person’s first name. “This is the gold standard,” she says. “You’ve secured the greeting with the head nod and smile; your eyes are locked in and you verbalized a greeting with the person’s name.”

Snow fighter Kevin Shackelford has experienced an uncomfortable scenario of not knowing how to respond to an alternative greeting. In this case, it was to touch toes as a sign of a greeting.

“It was during a training seminar with a vender,” he says. “They said they were no longer shaking hands … so they put their feet out and said ‘toe touch’ just in case had no idea what was going on. It was a bit awkward at first, but it wasn’t so bad.”

These awkward scenarios are unavoidable, warns Johnson, because there’s no generally accepted alternative. Instead, she suggests going with the flow and keeping things light.

“The last thing you want to do is embarrass the other person, especially if it’s a first-time meeting,” she says. “However, everyone can appreciate a little humor about the situation, so keep it light and keep smiling.”

Mike Zawacki is editor of Snow Magazine.