Will the Handshake Become a Thing of the Past?

May 1, 2020

The handshake used to be a universal custom when closing a deal. Has the COVID-19 pandemic killed the ritual for good?

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Personality of Social Psychology prior to the coronavirus outbreak found that handshakes were perceived as an intent to cooperate and led to improved negotiation outcomes. But health experts say that in a time of social distancing, shaking hands is an outdated custom. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said: “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again. … We’ve got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory illness.”

If the handshake fades away, what customs will replace it? A commentary in USA Today proposes bypassing handshakes and making introductions at business meetings with a simple “hello” or “pleasure to see you.” Some may want to take cues from other cultures, replacing the handshake with a bow at the waist, for example. Others have suggested clasping your hands together in a prayer-like gesture or crossing your wrists on your chest while making eye contact.

Greetings on technology platforms may serve as a guide for how people connect in the future. Etiquette experts point to examples of people using communication technologies where they give a wave, thumbs up, or nod their head to greet one another. “What these welcoming greetings all share is appropriate eye contact and a smile,” writes Bradley Ruffle, a professor of economics and academic director of McMaster University’s Decision Science Laboratory, and Candace Smith, a business etiquette coach.

But etiquette experts caution that there may be some social awkwardness while figuring out appropriate greetings. Some people may use this time period to temporarily pause the practice of shaking hands while others may prefer never to extend their hand again. “When we surface from this crisis and get to be in one another’s company again, it’s uncertain as to how we’ll greet each other again physically,” Ruffle and Smith write. “This break from socializing allows each one of us to consider what replacing the handshake might feel like.”

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