Many renowned healthcare experts from all over the world are predicting the end of the handshake, our most universal and certainly most American of all business greetings, even after the current pandemic is under control. Their thinking may be that this is an unnecessary and antiquated way of greeting one another, given all the germs besides COVID-19 that can be spread by grabbing the hand of someone whom we barely know.
The ramifications of this go beyond just breaking old habits. The reality is that those of us in business use the time-honored handshake to make an instant connection with a new business associate, customer or prospect. The very action of extending our hand is an acceptably friendly gesture in a time of scrutiny regarding the appropriateness of other types of physical contact in the business world. Shaking hands creates a “warm pause” before the business conversation or meeting begins in earnest and is usually accompanied by enhanced eye contact as well.
So what will we do instead – before diving into the business at hand prior to the beginning of a meeting? How will we establish that critical human contact in order to help set the stage for productive and trusting dialogue? For one thing, it will make meaningful eye contact even more important. Hopefully, we will get beyond the silly “elbow bump” and figure out some ways to truly connect that do not involve touching (and potentially spreading germs).
Studies reveal that human connection is important, not only in “nailing the sale”, but also in reducing stress of all kinds. People who feel supported and understood by others are more likely to live longer and to be less susceptible to illnesses. So it’s going to become more important than ever to spend the first few minutes of our business meetings getting to know each other on a fairly personal level and empathizing with one another relative to the kind of day our associates and customers are having. In addition to eye contact, conversational tone will become more important than ever.
Then there is the whole area of working alone at home. Many studies continue to unfold regarding the pros and cons of working remotely, but one thing is clear: it is easy to lose a sense of camaraderie and a sense of belonging when people are out of the office and not actually seeing each other in person. Those in-office connections aren’t just good for workers’ social needs and well-being. They can be hugely beneficial for a company’s bottom line. The Harvard Business Review found that people with a ‘best friend” at work were seven times more likely to be productively engaged in their work.
Another area is that of customer service. Experts are beginning to agree that customer service may be on the verge of a “sea change” and that customers are likely to get better service following the coronavirus crisis. Many companies have elevated their service to a higher quality level, with some even incorporating new technologies which establish more meaningful human connections and greater responsiveness. In times of great need, customers are not likely to forget the companies that helped them through their individual challenges in innovative and caring ways.
Our current crisis has taught us how to slow down a bit, to more clearly explain things that might not be so obvious to our audiences, and to offer an extra helping hand that goes beyond a pure
business transaction. Perhaps we have come to see our customers and clients more as people rather than simply as transactions.
So what do we do in lieu of the handshake? It’s going to be different for each of us, dictated by our own individual comfort levels and needs for human interaction. And perhaps it’s going to be a more sincere and personalized form of outreach that may end up being more meaningful (and hopefully less “germ-y”) than the handshake.