The future of the handshake

Would you prefer an elbow bump, fist pump, or namaste bow? What will the future of the handshake be post-pandemic?

 

The next piece of professional awkwardness could very well be around one of the timeless social greetings – the handshake. COVID19 has produced a number of campaigns around the connection between personal proximity and health.

There have been a number of heated discussions on LinkedIn on the topic attracting astonishingly polarised views. Some commentators suggesting they would cut candidates if they refused to accept a handshake, or judge them negatively. One commentator said he would punch the person. I hope that was a joke.

Others prefer an elbow bump, while Dorothy Dalton in a recent 3Plus Newsletter suggested she prefers a namaste type bow. She also gave us some interesting data on this form of greeting.

 

future of the handshake

Handshakes are male coded

So, let’s put this into context. Handshakes are a male-coded practice and most women would not be too unhappy to avoid having their bones crunched or those fingers that linger a fraction too long.  The handshake was originally a male-coded sign of peace. The history of the handshake dates back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece when two men would grip each other’s hands to indicate that neither person was carrying a weapon.

During the Roman era, the handshake was more of an arm grab to check that neither man had a knife hidden up his sleeve. Some say that the shaking gesture of the handshake started in Medieval Europe. Knights would shake the hand of others in an attempt to shake loose any hidden weapons.

In the business world there are a whole host of leadership coaches who include handshaking etiquette in their programmes, it is considered to be that important.

Grey zone for women

Touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal signal. For women the handshake has been something of a grey zone. They are often criticised for not giving a firm enough grip and frequently men are not always sure how to handle the first meeting with a woman. In some cultures men are not allowed to make physical contact with a woman not in their family.

However, in some ways it has been a great public display of equality and a sign that women are included in this male-style, non-threatening bonding ritual. GQ  magazine suggests that “The whole point of a handshake is to convey trust, balance and equality, not to show dominance or submission.”

People with “good” handshakes are perceived to be extroverted and emotionally expressive, which contributes to making that important good first impression and being memorable. In the workplace women with firm handshakes are evaluated as positively as men.

Personal hygiene

This brings us to that delicate topic of personal cleanliness which could well impact the future of the handshake in a post pandemic world.  Research in 2015 from Statistica not everyone washes their hands after using the toilet.

Dalton shared some scary data. In the US data from Yougov 2020 says 58% of US adults say they always wash their hands with soap after going to the restroom at home. A quarter (25%) say they wash with soap most of the time after a trip to the bathroom at home, while 10% do this some of the time and 4% rarely do. Research from the UK in 2020 suggests that although the majority of adults say they’re washing their hands more often since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 12% report they don’t wash their hands after using a public or private restroom,

There are also gender differences in hygiene after bathroom use 2013 Michigan State University field study here conducted by research assistants who observed nearly 4,000 people in restrooms around East Lansing, Michigan.

The study found 14.6% of men did not wash their hands at all after using the bathroom and 35.1% wet their hands but did not use soap, compared to 7.1% and 15.1% of women, respectively.

Replacements to the handshake

Today, the fist bump is gaining ground in the U.S. including older people. According to one survey, 49% of Americans sometimes choose the fist bump over a traditional handshake as a greeting. Others think that a head nod or a bow is acceptable. The most important thing is to maintain eye contact and appear friendly and professional.

The key difficulty will be to gauge how people want to interact. I have found that the easiest way is by asking!

So, what are you going to do?  How do you see the future of the handshake? That is the question. Take our poll.

 

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3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Leadership and Competence Building or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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