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Shaken or stirred: the modern handshake

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It wasn’t too long ago when we were walking into a meeting room, extending a hand and the person in front of you was happy to participate in a hearty handshake — reckless, right?! Or even a carefree pat on the back for a job well done. What daredevils we were...

They say you can tell a lot about a person by their handshake. Especially in an interview, it’s your chance to show your assertiveness, confidence — even authority.

Fast forward to today and while this seemingly innocent and old-as-time gesture is still recognised as a formal workplace greeting, what do we do now that people are less willing, plus when you think that we’ve gone such a long time having to invent new ways to greet people — and we’ve seen our fair share of unusual meet and greets!

Let’s explore these for a minute…

First you’ve got the fist bump. Where you clench your fist, basically like you’re psyching yourself up ready to punch your colleague (some of us may have even wanted to on occasion…) and you hope and pray they get the signal and meet your fist with theirs, otherwise that will just look like you’re ready to start an office brawl.

You've then got the elbow nudge — bring your hand towards your chest as if you were ready to re-enact the ‘birdy song’ and swing round elbow’s first to nudge the other person’s elbow, who also looks like they’re doing their best chicken impersonation.

Let’s not forget the toe tap, where you could be mistaken for gearing up ready to perform in Riverdance, balance on one leg and knock the other person’s toes — no kicking though, as that just goes back to the aforementioned office brawl.

It’s crazy, right. But what seems a little bizarre is we’re happy to fist bump but not shake hands — aren’t you still touching, when the whole idea is to not. Let’s face it those poor eskimos must be in some real trouble — what are they doing? Surely they’re not rubbing noses anymore?

My question is, how do we greet people in the workplace now, and should there be a universal modern handshake?

Now you might be thinking to yourself ‘why do you care’? Well, picture this.

You have three candidates coming in for an interview, and you go to greet them with a handshake. Candidate A sees the extended hand and waves theirs in the air to address the awkwardness of the new post-pandemic situation. Candidate B goes to do a first bump, meets your hand, and you’re left there in a weird cupping situation. Candidate C dismisses the handshake entirely and there’s a pin-drop pause moment.

Or on the flip side, you might be the one against handshakes and new Candidate D goes to shake your hand — you don’t want to leave them hanging, but then you’re caught clambering for the hand sanitiser and your interviewee takes offence.

You see, everyone has their own way. And so is there ever going to be a time when we’re not engaging in some form of awkward handshake dance? And the world leaders aren’t exactly setting the standard for which we can all follow either. BoJo has been advocating the elbow nudge; Biden fist-bumps his way through his appointments.

What we need is some clear guidelines to keep everyone feeling comfortable as we move forward. It’s not going to be practical for everyone to be whipping surgical gloves on and off. It’s also not ideal long-term for people to be left feeling awkward or uncomfortable.

As a rule, maybe we need to set the precedent ourselves and adopt our own meet and greet, letting people know ‘this is what we do here’.

At 9am we don’t like to be awkward, so we’ve done just that. Now, we salute people. It’s fun, it’s universally recognised as a greeting, and do you know what, it’s a great icebreaker when candidates come in for an interview! We’ve popped signs up in reception to let clients and newcomers know, we’re popping notices out to people we’re going to visit and we’re even adopting it around the studio. No touching, no awkwardness or uncertainty, just a good old-fashioned – and with flair – salute. How’s that for a new normal!

So, are you a fist-bumper, toe tapper — maybe something we haven’t heard of yet? Let me know. Find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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