Whether it’s through grip or greeting, you can learn a lot about someone from their handshake. It only takes a few seconds to do, but your handshake communicates confidence, respect, friendliness, etc. And, if you’re (un)lucky enough, you might just learn about the health of the person on the receiving end of your greeting.
In a socially distanced world that has rapidly become hyper-aware of hygiene, the act once thought of as a professional staple has been rendered a thing of the past. Even though it is considered bad practice to break that 6-foot barrier and go in for a handshake, the professional and social itch the handshake scratched is still there. So, what can you as a professional do instead to put your best foot forward? Here are my favorite alternatives to the handshake:
As a social gesture, the handshake communicates three things: respect, confidence, and approachability
Not Every Culture Has Embraced the Handshake
Because of the value put on handshakes in American culture, it may be surprising to learn that it is not a universal social gesture. In fact, many cultures have other actions that serve the same customary purpose. In Japanese culture, it is customary to bow, while Hindu cultures use the añjali mudrā gesture (pressing your palms and fingers together at chest level and bowing slightly).
Pivoting to a no-contact greeting may not seem natural for us in the US, but think of how many handshakes seem unnatural or awkward, anyway. Just like any activity, it takes practice; the more you do it, the more natural it will become.
The No-Contact Introduction
When you first meet someone new, you probably go in for a handshake and start with, “Hi, I’m so and so. It’s nice to meet you”. In a socially distanced world, it is important to remember the only thing you need to change here is your handshake. The important part is that you’re introducing yourself. If you’re looking ways to change up your accompanying gesture, a simple wave or nod, (or even elbow bump) can replace the actual handshake.
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Giving an Elevator Speech
If you’re not familiar with this term, you might be thinking, “What the heck is that?”An elevator speech is a term that comes from the sales world. It’s basically where you have a short window of time (like an elevator ride) to sell someone one something.
In the context of interviewing, it’s more or less a commercial about why someone should “buy” into you, professionally.
Eye contact shows respect for your audience. This will NEVER change. Whether they or you are talking, it is important to make it a point to lock eyes throughout the conversation. When someone is talking to you, making eye contact shows engagement, and when you are speaking, it sends the message that what you have to say is important.
Increasing your level of eye contact can be a great way to grab someone’s attention and display your professional confidence in situations where shaking hands has become taboo.
Taking a Page from the MLB
In Major League Baseball, players will often give no-contact high fives. Now, admittedly, it’s probably not a great idea to use this in an interview, but this might be something you can do with friends or co-workers instead of shaking hands. Depending on your line of work or your social circle, you could also use a peace sign, the Vulcan salute (who doesn’t want to live long and prosper?), tip your hat, or give a no-contact fist bump. But again, use your best judgment when deciding where to bust out these socially distanced moves.
Waving Goodbye to the Handshake
Handshakes have long been a staple in the business world -especially during an interview. Given the current state of the world, it could be years before the handshake returns (if it ever does).
It’s important to remember that we’re all in our own “trial periods” when it comes to finding a handshake alternative that works best for us. If you feel an air fist bump is too unprofessional for your upcoming interview, but a wave isn’t confident enough, there is no harm in asking your interviewer their personal preference for a no-contact greeting.
This is my personal favorite from the ones we’ve tried at Bridge:
There isn’t really a wrong way to replace a handshake. When thinking of the things you can do as an alternative that fit your personality and personal style, think about what the handshake signified socially: respect, confidence, and approachability. If you incorporate no-contact actions that communicate those three things, then you’re 100% doing it right!