In the space of only a few weeks, the impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been felt around the world. Increasingly, individuals are taking the precaution of avoiding skin-on-skin contact when greeting others. Last week we saw Angela Merkel’s offer of a handshake rather publicly rejected by her interior minister, while Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte broke his own rule when he instinctively shook hands with a senior health official following a press conference on Tuesday.
Uncertainty over the right approach at this equally uncertain time can lead to both parties in a business interaction feeling awkward, marring that all-important first impression on a client.
So assuming you’re still taking a ‘business as usual’ approach to business meetings, what is the best way to greet people? Here are three pointers to bear in mind:
1.) Take your lead from the other person
If you are still comfortable shaking hands, wait to see what the other person does and follow suit. If he or she goes in for the shake, keep your grasp firm and confident as you would usually. If the other person seems reluctant to shake hands (or if you are), a smile, nod and friendly verbal greeting will usually be adequate substitutes.
2.) Address the issue head-on
Awkwardness can be assuaged by mentioning the current situation at the outset. Saying something like ‘Shall we adhere to best practice and avoid a handshake?’ will acknowledge the issue and smooth the interaction.
A smile will project a message of warmth and welcome, and helps to lessen any feeling of offence caused by a rejected physical greeting. That said, be wary of smiling too much in certain countries, including Russia and Ukraine, where it could undermine your authority.