To shake or not shake hands

To shake or not shake hands

The greeting of shaking hands is almost as old as man. The first documented image of handshaking goes back as far as the 5th century, yet our current climate may see the end of the handshake as we know it.

Am I being alarmist? Yes? No?

Only the future can tell what this time in history will have on mankind.

The facts as we know them are; there is an outbreak of Ebola in countries on the African continent and many people are dying. There have been a couple of outbreaks in America, which hopefully had been contained. There was a suspected contamination in Australia, which luckily proved to be false. But have we managed to contain it? Do we need to become more aware of the way we greet and interact with each other?

As an image consultant I am employed to go into companies and teach the soft skills of appearance, behaviour and communication. One of these skills which I teach to graduates and executives alike is the art of a proper handshake. So where does this potential risk leave the humble handshake? I hope that it leaves it ideally fixed where it is in society as the most professional and most respectful means greeting one another in the corporate environment.

it has become the topic of great interest to a group of us image consultants globally. Jeanne Nelson of New York and the Prowess Workshops, commented that ‘what started as an offering of peace by the clasping of unarmed hands may in fact turn into a life threatening action”.

What should you do if someone refuses to shake hands with you? What should you do if you do not wish to shake hands with another person and what are the other options available to you to do without causing offence.

Alternative options which are been remarked upon are

The closed fist bump–historically used by boxers, bikers and baseball players.  That history in itself does not lend itself to a respectful and professional greeting and you are still connecting with the other person’s hand even if it is not palm to palm, it is still skin to skin. it is growing in popularity, though.

Elbow–Forearm bump –  an adaptation of the fist bump and growing in popularity in Africa and recommended by an infectious disease expert Dr Aileen Marty.

Namaste –  placing the palms together at chest level and bowing your head is very respectful however made prove tricky should you have items in your left hand.

My favourite -take the hand you would shake with place it up to your heart (open or closed over your heart) and give a slight bow in acknowledgment of the person to whom your meeting.

So this leaves the question what you do when someone refuses to shake your hands do not wish to shake hands with another? In the instance that someone refuses to shake your hand I would adopt the action of placing my hand to my chest as I mentioned in the last option above. It is much better than leaving your hand hanging limply in mid air. should you wish to not shake hands with another person as part of the greeting you will need to immediately commence with either a Namaste or other form of greeting for your hands day close to your body yet to acknowledge the person with a bow, a smile and eye contact. Arden Clise of the Etiquette Institue in Seattle said “the West African “clasped hand head bow approach.” “It’s not religious, and I like that it’s obvious by clasping one’s hands you’re not going to shake someone’s hand”.

It would be prudent to remember the following. When washing your hands surgeons often wash for as long as it takes them to sing happy birthday to make sure their hands are sterile, carry a hand sanitiser in your purse for situations where water may not be readily available and even when doing your groceries make use of the wipes on hand in many stores to clean the trolleys.

While hopefully Ebola won’t make it on to our shores and will be contained very soon it is good to keep in mind what we can do to protect ourselves from sharing and spreading even the most common coughs and colds that seem to be everywhere.

Let me finish by saying that until the World Health Organisation or our own local health authorities advise against shaking hands I will continue to do so.

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