Two plus years through the pandemic and it’s safe to say social interactions have shifted. Elbow taps became the default physical greetings, awkward waves dominated zoom calls, and don’t even mention longing hugs. Two meters apart never felt so close. But as safety precautions drop and the world opens up it’s time to re-evaluate our new normal against the inevitable return of old habits. The business world is clamoring to return and as it does, I start to wonder, is the handshake back?
As a relatively new employee of a company in the UK, this topic remains top of mind. My first few weeks prompted a slew of first time formal greetings, from new teammates and clients to various media partners. In each instance I was greeted with a friendly hand and immediately confronted by my own feelings toward the fundamental exchange.
Though I recognize the diminishing risk, I must confess my newly inherited traumas have persisted. As simple as a handshake is, each instance triggers a flurry of thoughts; How proactive is this new person with their sanitization habits? Is there a bottle of sanitizer within reach? How long till I’ll access soap and a sink just to be sure?
Despite my own internal dialogue it seems that most of my coworkers and clients have easily slipped back into the practice of a formal handshake. The natural question is why? To learn more, I took an office survey to understand just how comfortable people are with handshakes today and why they remain so integral to our interactions.
- Out of a small sample size, 90% of people said they felt truly comfortable with a handshake today.
- That comfort grew when it came to a professional setting as all respondents felt comfortable shaking hands with a client. 90% felt comfortable shaking hands with fellow colleagues, but only 60% felt doing so was appropriate with a complete stranger.
- 80% believe there’s a difference between shaking the hand of a stranger vs someone you already know. Responses ranged from caution around stranger’s sanitary habits, to the extreme formality of a handshake in settings with previously known colleagues, friends, and family.
- Nearly all surveyed indicated that a handshake was important to establishing trust and to appear polite in a professional setting.
- In terms of alternatives, 90% felt a verbal greeting remains a sufficient substitution for the handshake. 70% continued to support the elbow tap, while 60% thought a hug is appropriate.
The results seem to confirm much of my recent experience, but also established a few key points.
- It’s clear the practice of a handshake has roared back with the fall of covid restrictions. What was temporarily taboo has become the default greeting once more and it’s all due to the perception of the action itself. A firm handshake remains the number one way to quickly establish trust in a business setting.
- The context for the interaction matters. We already covered that respondents felt the handshake was too formal a greeting for most interactions, but the location matters as well. For example, a double-kiss on the cheek is a more common practice in Southern Europe.
- There seems to be no 100% consensus on a physical replacement for the handshake in a business setting. If you’re not comfortable, don’t feel the need to replace it with any physical greeting at all.
As much as it pains me, the new normal isn’t all that different from the old. For this writer the mental game remains in play, but it’s clearer now than ever, the handshake is here to stay.
Is the handshake really all it’s cracked up to be? Are you back in the practice today?
Read our previous blog post here.