The coronavirus outbreak has many on edge, raising concerns about making skin-to-skin contact during business and social interactions as health officials stress that keeping hands clean is one of the best ways to stave off infection.
An etiquette expert has some suggestions for those antsy about shaking hands in the time of coronavirus, but who still want to remain engaged with their greetings and interactions.
“Declining someone’s handshake is kind of the biggest business and social faux pas that you can make, so it’s really interesting to see what’s become of us declining a handshake — and how,” said Crystal Bailey, director of The Etiquette Institute of Washington.
“Making sure that we still make eye contact and smile when we’re greeting someone is important.”
At a business meeting or while meeting a client, “I might have to say a little something like ‘Well, with all that’s going on, I’m only sticking to elbow bumps or the wave,’ or maybe even like an openhanded greeting where you just open your hand or do a head nod.”
Bailey also notes it is important to try and gauge a first-time client’s body language to see what greeting might be preferable for them, and to see if they’re picking up on yours as well.
Being open about the awkwardness of the social adjustment is another recommendation. “I think acknowledging the fact that this is a little bit weird is important as well. Just not shaking someone’s hand without acknowledging the fact or why you’re not doing it … it’s important to make sure that you bring up the weirdness.”
But Bailey does not recommend elongated periods of discussion.
“What I want to discourage people from doing, though, is making it a 20 minute conversation on the virus. It could be a conversation starter, I suppose. An unusual conversation starter, but I would definitely pivot to something more substantive as to what the business is at hand, as opposed to just speaking about the virus.”
Greetings can also include “the more ‘namaste bow’ type of position with your hands together. I’m really liking the open palm, though myself, and so I’m doing that with more of a head nod.”
No matter what greeting you choose, Bailey said keep this in mind: “It’s important for people to be able to see our hands when we’re greeting them. It goes to our trust factor.“
But she finds something annoying, like “people making culturally insensitive jokes or making [insensitive] statements with regards to the virus. It’s important to be aware of that because it is in conversation all the time.”
And in the event that you end up shaking someone’s hand because it’s such an ingrained habit, wait a while before dousing your hands with sanitizer gel.
“If you can maybe step away from someone before doing that and not Lysoling down right in someone’s face, I think that’s important, too, just as a sign of respect,” Bailey said.
Etiquette rules for dining have changed a bit, too, in light of this virus.
“When I think about fine dining etiquette, I would be so appalled if someone had typically whipped out some hand sanitizer gel at a dining table or in a restaurant. But now, maybe a little bit under the table, I can see it happening. I wouldn’t ding you for bad etiquette for doing that.”
The silver lining for all of this precaution, Bailey said, is that people have a heightened awareness of “hygiene rules that hopefully people were following before. Washing your hands and wiping machines down at the gym… maybe this will get people who were not doing what they should’ve been doing before back in tune with basic hygiene.”