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Health and etiquette: Should handshakes be handed off?

Traditional etiquette encourages polite people to shake hands when meeting in professional and social situations. But is this courteous protocol a smart step during cold and flu season? Might folks be sharing more than manners by cordially pressing palms?

Germaphobes may cringe at the possibility. Others may join them during epidemics or when they hear a cough, sneeze, or sniffle.

Virtually everyone has heard the horror stories of folks who don’t wash their hands regularly. We’re aware that hand sanitizer gels and creams may not work as thoroughly as we once thought.

What if you walk into a job interview or a business conference, and the person you are meeting coughs or  sneezes right into his or her palm before extending it to you for a handshake? What will you do?

NOTE: Written by this author, this copyrighted material originally appeared on another publisher’s site. That site no longer exists. This author holds all rights to this content. No republication is allowed without permission.

We shudder to think of it. That might even be worse than grasping the handle of a shopping cart, right after a sniffling kid has sat in the seat and clutched the same bar.

Handshake - public domain photo
So we shrink from hand-shaking.

In fact, a surprising number of reasonably rational individuals shy away from handshakes on occasion. In one very friendly Midwestern church, for example, the pastor jokingly urges congregants to tap elbows in greeting, rather than shaking hands. It’s become a comical tradition of sorts.

Could hugs be healthier than handshakes?

Plenty of people opt for hugs, rather than handshakes, when meeting up with familiar friends and relatives. A hug tends to transmit fewer germs than a handshake, simply because the hands often carry more possible contagions than arms, shoulders, and other hugging parts.

The secret, of course, is to turn one’s head away while hugging, to avoid face-to-face germ sharing.

Still, hugging may not work in the boardroom, the job interview, or the sales call, where handshakes are as traditional as the grey flannel suit. A hug might raise a few hackles … and eyebrows in the workplace.

Can we come up with polite alternatives to the handshake?

What handy ways can folks avoid shaking hands without causing concerns over courtesy, friendliness, or overall attitude? Some may carry a gift, a document, or a business card and immediately move to hand it to the other person (rather than shaking hands). With solid eye contact, a ready smile, and a surplus of poise, he or she might just pull it off.

Adapted from public domain image.

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