Body Language Expert: Did Coronavirus Kill Handshakes Forever?
I had a reporter call me yesterday for my expertise as a body language expert and ask if, in light of the Corona virus going around, the handshake is dead.
It took me a while to get my head around my answer. But here it is: In the short term, maybe.
The tradition of shaking someone’s hand when you meet comes from Medieval times when people would shake hands to see if a dagger fell out of the other person’s sleeve. Are they safe?
Now it’s a custom, especially in business. And, one that can be very handy (oooo…that was a good pun). We typically don’t need to know if someone is safe or not these days. (However, If you’re running around with people with daggers up their sleeves you may want to reconsider some life choices.)
There’s a lot of info that can be gleaned about the other person in a handshake. When you know what to look for, you can know their deep unconscious set point. Do they need to be in control, or are they ready to do whatever you want? (Details on that are for another time.)
I took a quick, unscientific survey on Facebook to see what people are thinking about handshakes lately and got some interesting answers.
Most weren’t worried about it but are washing their hands and using hand sanitizer much more frequently. So, if we’re honest, that means they’re worried about it.
Many are curtailing their use for now, knowing that it’s an important way to show confidence. They’ll pick use back up once hysteria dies down.
Some are skipping them all together.
Several people wished handshakes would go away for good, that it’s always creeped them out.
My massage therapist friends reminded me that non-sexual loving touch is totally important to release oxytocin, the self soothing hormone. So touching someone else can make you feel really good.
And there was a big group coming up with alternatives to the handshake which include forearm bumps, foot taps, jazz hands, touchdown dances and my favorite the Vulcan salute. After all, who doesn’t want to live long and prosper?
I had one person call me to say that the handshake may lose importance for future generations. When kids see adults reacting this way they’ll internalize it. If this lasts a long time, they just may not ever see the value.
Currently we do put value on this custom. In the short term, it’s less valuable than a perceived health risk. Risk has always been there when touching someone else, now it’s just all over the news. Germs have been around forever, you know.
My hope is that we’ll break some bad habits like not washing our hands. And we may be on the precipice of a new normal.
The bottom line: Follow another person’s lead. If they’re pulling back, they’re sending you a message. Just give them some grace.
Whatever greeting you pick, dial down the panic, have fun with it!