Is the Handshake Going Extinct?

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The most professional greeting—the handshake—may be going extinct.

From business school interviews to networking happy hours, a firm handshake is touted as a sure-fire way to make a positive first impression. But is it necessary?

The novel coronavirus outbreak has made us acutely aware of how germs can be spread. With the majority of COVID-19 cases contracted by person-to-person contact, social distancing has become a global means of flattening the curve. Most community contracted cases involve touching a contaminated surface before touching our eyes, nose, or mouth—which we do, on average, 23 times an hour!

This irreversible reality means we’re all more aware of how to avoid spreading colds, diseases, or the flu. Those who return to handshaking when social distancing mandates are lifted may appear inconsiderate, or worse. As we look to the future, this new normal requires us to reflect on handshakes and hugs with people outside our household.

Fist bumps and elbow bumps may not be the best replacements for professional introductions. Before assuming others are comfortable with a handshake, consider these tips for leading in the new era of professional networking:

Choose your no-touch alternative ahead of time

While preparing your talking points for an interview or looking up the dress code for an event, take a moment to determine a gesture that feels comfortable and authentic. Some options include putting both palms together or placing your dominant hand over your heart with a half bow or nod. Before choosing a playful alternative like the Star Trek Vulcan salutation, consider the context that brought about this change—the coronavirus pandemic—since strong associations will remain in people’s minds.

Take charge of the introduction

Failing to make the first move in a post-COVID world is a missed opportunity to manage your personal brand. Plus, others may similarly be wondering how to avoid a handshake, so they’ll be relieved when you lead the way. When you approach, clearly verbalize a greeting, followed by your full name and your no-touch gesture of choice.

Politely decline while mirroring

If you find yourself presented with an outstretched hand, putting your hands together while mimicking the other person’s body language can be a quick alternative with surprisingly positive impact. Psychologists call this mirroring, and it builds rapport, contributes to a positive impression, and increases perceptions of trust or closeness. Consider copying the person’s facial expression (like smiling), posture (sitting, standing, and arm or leg positioning), and word choice (“My name is…” as opposed to “I am…).

Acknowledge what we’ve been through together

Navigating these new interactions can be a bit awkward. If the situation requires a verbal acknowledgement, consider a light-hearted observation or a moment of gratitude. Phrases like, “I’m so thankful we can have events like this again!” or “I want to do my part to avoid spreading germs, but I’m still getting used to this!” can position you as self-aware and likeable.

It’s impossible to go back to the way things used to be pre-COVID-19, but our newfound mindfulness around the traditional handshake will contribute to reduced community spread of many illnesses. Click to learn more about how COVID-19 is impacting GMAT testing and the b-school application process, and sign up for an mba.com account today to stay in-the-know about the latest business school news.

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