Right now it is important to create physical boundaries with others, but how can we do that and still make a powerful introduction in every encounter moving forward? In light of the COVID19 crisis, things have changed – including some of the etiquette procedures we were used to and that’s why many are looking for handshake alternatives.
However, right away, to be very clear: the handshake is not — and has never been — a universal greeting. Among other cultures and religions, there are other acknowledgment norms that are dependent, for example, on gender, age, or background. Many have a different stance on the handshake and there is no one-size-fits-all formula. So, regardless of any health concerns and in order to avoid awkward handshake attempts, be sure to do your research first and take the lead in how the greeting takes place.
However, on top of cultural differences, the Covid-19 crisis added new –and in particular health concerns– to the traditional handshake. And keep in mind – those could yours or others. In light of Covid-19 things have changed: you might not be ready to shake hands, or even if you are others might not. What hasn’t changed is that you should never make yourself or others feel uncomfortable. With that goal in mind, here is a 3-step process and alternative to achieve this:
1. Verbal Acknowledgment
First, just say hello – a simply verbal acknowledgment and greeting. If you want to impress even further, find out where the person you are greeting is from and greet them in the way you would in the language they speak. With a simple “Guten Tag” “Bonsoir” “Ciao” or “Ni hao” you can immediately signalize that you did your homework, that you are prepared, and most important – that you care. Even if it’s not perfectly pronounced, it’s a small but impactful gesture.
2. Smile genuinely
Next, be sure you are smiling in a genuine and inviting way while saying hello! The way we feel during a first encounter has a lot to do with whether the person seems authentic and pleasant. Smiling is a great indicator of these traits and can lighten the mood from the very start. By flashing a big smile you also display confidence, happiness, friendliness — all the positive feelings we want to project when greeting someone.
Now, I understand, you might be thinking: What if I also have to wear a facemask and others don’t notice my smile. First, a real, true, and authentic smile might start at your lips, however also involves your eyes. This type of smile will pull your cheeks up so that the skin around your eyes crinkles – the good kind of crinkles. And second, I’ll be publishing a video about the challenges of wearing a facemask soon and promise to link it here once available.
3. Use your hands (differently)
Finally, and most importantly, signal with your hands that you are NOT ready for a handshake (or don’t EXPECT one either). By holding them folded, over your heart, or using them to wave as a physical greeting this will gesture to those around you that you are not open to physical touch. So simply said, skip the handshake for a while. Limit your greetings to a personal hello with a big smile and clear body language. And yes, I know that there are many other alternatives circulating around the Internet. However here are the challenges with those:
With a fist bump or elbow bump, you are still touching the other person and it’s impossible to do so six feet apart. And also keep in mind, people might be sneezing or coughing into their elbows. With a live long and prosper salute, peace sign, or any other hand signal you might be risking that others either don’t know what it means, or it means something completely different in another culture. Blowing kisses or a cute eye wink can be seen as inappropriate or overly casual and rather awkward in a professional setting.
Avoiding handshakes does not make you less of a professional or less of a leader. Within your career, you can still step into your leadership potential and continue making impactful first impressions with non-physical greetings. The unspoken truth is that… shaking hands is not vital to a first encounter!
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