The Coronavirus Pandemic will change the way we do business.

Has Coronavirus Ended the Handshake?

Has Coronavirus / COVID-19 Ended the Handshake?

The Coronavirus Pandemic will change the way we do business.

The handshake, a staple of business, has existed in some form or another for thousands of years, but its origins are somewhat unclear. One popular theory is that the gesture began as a way of conveying peaceful intentions, making sure that your opponent did not have a hidden weapon. By extending their empty right hand, strangers could show that they were not holding weapons, and moreover meant no ill will to the other person.  This dates back to 5000B.C. in Greece.

It has been suggested thatthe up-and-down motion of the handshake was supposed to dislodge any knives or daggers that might be hidden up a sleeve. Yet another explanation is that the handshake was a symbol of good faith when making an oath or promise. When people clasped hands, they showed that their word was a sacred bond.

In America, the handshake’s popularity was propelled by 18thCentury Quakers. In their efforts to eschew the hierarchy and social rank, they found the handshake a more democratic form of greeting.

In more modern times, the firm handshake has become the pinnacle in business. A firm handshake denotes that a person is strong, powerful and takes charge. A weak handshake is the sign of being less outgoing or positive. Along with the handshake is eye contact. Whether you have strong eye contact along with the firm handshake is an indicator of trust, power and honesty.

People are judged on their handshake in business whether they like it or not. This is where the quandary exists in today’s business society.

The unfortunate effect of the handshake is the transmittal of germs from one person to another.  When we shake hands, all the bacteria on our hand is transferred to the next person…. And there in lies the problem.  Today, especially in the face of the Coronavirus / COVID-19, humans cannot risk that transmittal of germs, bacteria and illness.  I predict that in business and even everyday life we will no longer shake hands.  I believe that we will even do away with the now popular “fist bump.”  We just don’t need to touch each other anymore.

One of my female colleagues told me that she will now institute the “head butt” as the new form of a greeting.  Now, this is pretty glib and will get a laugh, but from a practical sense, what she is saying is shaking hands is simply off the table in the current climate, and possibly forever.

Coronavirus will change the way we meet, gather, communicate, congregate, and think about business; maybe some for the better, and some changes that are for the worse.  Nevertheless, I think that the longstanding tradition to shake hands will reach its demise. It no longer makes any sense.

I personally am going to instate the long-standing Japanese tradition of bowing. Bowing dates back to the 14thCentury Samurai as their greeting to each other. Bowing makes complete sense as it is a way to greet the other person, display an element of respect, and still eliminate physical contact.

The following is a primer on Japanese Bowing.  I don’t think that we should employ all of these rules, it is good to know how to execute this greeting:

  • Bow for the occasion:There are different bows for different situations. When you greet someone, who is more senior to you, you should hold the bow at the lowest point (say 30 degrees) a bit longer than your senior. When meeting up with friends (who you know well), you can bow with a small head movement forward without really bending your body. When greeting someone for the first time who is of equal ‘status’ to you, a 15-degree bow would be acceptable.
  • Keep your arms natural but not floppy:When you bend forward, your arms should naturally slide to the front over your thighs. They don’t need to be stiff by your side – we aren’t in the military here!
  • Bow back if you’re bowed at! Unless of course you are getting bowed at by employees in stores.
  • Don’t getout-bowed: In business or in a formal setting, if someone more senior bows, you better bow after his/her last bow, otherwise it may be taken as disrespectful!
  • Bowing while receiving a business card: When greeting someone in business, the lower position person will present the other with a business card (with both hands holding the card). In Japan, the business card is treated with respect and when receiving it, it should be received with a bow with both hands still holding the card in front.

In the end, I am suggesting that we all consider how we are going to conduct business from here into the future.  Are we going to employ Zoom to conduct meetings, depositions, and the like more often? Are we going to have less human contact? Are we going to be more wary of others, or more respectful?  Has the handshake seen its last shake?

Robert Maizel is an Experienced Trial Attorney in Philadelphia with over fifteen years of trial experience.

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