BusinessIs COVID-19 the end of handshakes?

Mary ChapmanJune 25, 20207 min

The handshake. It’s been part of introductions and business deals for centuries. During COVID-19, handshakes have ceased. But should we break the custom permanently?

Experts say yes.

Read on to learn why handshakes may become extinct and what might replace them.

History of the handshake

Depictions of handshaking as a sign of trust is found in art and literature from thousands of years back. We see it in Classic Greek and Roman text and art as well as in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Sometimes these depictions occur around marriages or between rulers of different lands.

“The idea of extending your right hand derives from medieval times when you showed that by extending your right hand, you were not harbouring a weapon,” says Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert at the Mayo Clinic.

Even though handshakes are no longer used to see if the other person has a weapon, they have retained their signal of good intentions. In business situations especially, handshakes are important.

The research of Dr. Juliana Schroeder, assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, shows that people are more willing to work with those who offer their hand at the beginning of negotiations.

But with the way COVID-19 spreads, handshakes have stopped. But is it temporary?

The danger of shaking hands

Many experts say that we need to stop shaking hands, even once the pandemic is over. Not only would it prevent COVID-19 from spreading but would also greatly lower the number of influenza cases each year as well as improve our health overall.

A group of researchers wrote in the Journal of Dermatological Science, “Hands are like a busy intersection, constantly connecting our microbiome to the microbiomes of other people, places, and things.” That means that our hands play a huge roll in transmitting viruses.

“When you extend your hand, you’re extending a bioweapon,” says  Poland.

Experts agree. Handshaking needs to fade from our society’s culture. But is it possible to stop? If so, what, if anything, should replace it?

Are handshakes a thing of the past?

History shows that it is possible to change societal habits. For example, the Black Plague heralded the end of cheek-kissing in France for hundreds of years.

Italy, the hardest-hit area in Europe during this pandemic, has seen 34,000 deaths and 237,500 cases. The Italian government cancelled public events and encouraged the residents to avoid gestures of affections. For people used to kissing each other on the cheek in greeting this is a significant change in lifestyle.

Similarly, in Canada and other parts of the world, not shaking hands, especially in business transactions feels strange.

Schroeder says that we may experience an “uncomfortable phase-out period.” But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be resolved to make a change.  Especially if an alternative can be adopted.

Greeting alternatives

Handshaking isn’t the standard everywhere, of course. Non-physical greetings like bowing, joining palms in namaste and placing a hand on the heart are all common practices in other parts of the world.

Though handshakes are common in the business world, it isn’t as conventional as we might think.

In recent years, China, India and the Middle East have become more influential in global business. That’s half the world’s population with greeting customs that aren’t handshaking.

Kanina Blanchard, professor and lecturer at the University of Western Ontario says, “Do the math. Other ways of greeting are actually more conventional [than shaking hands].

She adds that the “customs in those cultures could become the international norm.”

We’d love to hear from you. Let us know what you think in the comments.



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Mary Chapman

Graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honors BA English Specialization and has completed several publishing courses at Ryerson University. She is a proofreader, editor, and content writer based in London, Ontario.

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