End The Handshake With These Alternatives

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John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.


“John, you probably haven’t had a client quite like me before. Or maybe you have, but here is what’s going on.” I remember about three years ago, a client, a recently laid-off mid-tier executive, stood across my room, teary-eyed and with a loose leather binder close to his vest.

“At this point, I think I have heard it all,” I said. “But I have been in career coaching long enough to know I haven’t heard anything yet. You can tell me. What you got?”

“Have you ever heard of palmar hyperhidrosis?” I opened my eyes a little wider. He opened his hand as he said it, palms up. I shook my head no. Then he explained. The condition is defined as excessive, uncontrollable sweating occurring in the hands or palms. This rising talent felt that his palmar hyperhidrosis was one of the embarrassments of his work and life. He told me he never wanted to refer to it as a disability but it was something that he hid and he felt “probably hurt me in my career.”

He went on to call it a confidence issue and a stressful condition but never wanted to complain. We coached, counseled and helped him build up his confidence to take on his next assignment and embrace new ways to disengage from the problematic handshake. We added the fistbump and called it a tennis and sports injury. He used powder and a few new products and even an over-the-counter medicine that helped dry it up, but nothing cured his condition completely.

Whether you have sweaty palms or have been diagnosed or not with palmer hyperhidrosis, I believe it’s high time to remove or lessen the conventional handshake — and, while we are at it, the usually uncomfortable hug — from the workplace and in networking once and for all. At the same time, this move away from the handshake could help with many human resources issues. There are many people who will miss the caring authenticity a handshake or hug can convey, but there are a lot of other people who would cheer the demise of both.

Here are simple, easy alternatives that could and probably should be top candidates to replace the handshake.

Make Eye Contact And Nod

Looking someone in the eyes for a moment, nodding and waiting for the same simple exchange seems reasonable, clean and safe. Using an open stance versus folded arms and then adding a controlled smile will help. In a crowd of three or four, this can be done with or without words.

Nod, Smile And Use A Phrase

Moving within several feet of a person you are to meet or introduced to, you can nod, smile and say something simple like, “Nice to meet you. I have read a lot about the work you are doing in SaaS recently.” Let the other person respond, and continue the conversation.

A Name Matters

The networking handshake could also be replaced by repeating someone’s name back to them. “Jane Smith,” you say. “It is nice to meet you, and I look forward to working with you on the project.” Then a pause. Use her name again so you remember it.

Use A Pen Or Your Phone

If someone pushes out the rather outdated business card to you, offer to record the information on your phone. In this case, your smartphone can smartly move a person back a few steps as you take a picture of their card or scan it. New technologies will be developed to e-connect with people, and they should become popular.

Try Fist Bumps And Elbow Bumps

Out of the two, the fist bump seems to have the most going for it if we are weaning ourselves off of the old handshake convention. But if we have to do it, that is the closest alternative, and it has an athletic flair for triumph. As for elbow bumps, they look awkward and should be limited. They just look weird, okay? I can live with a fist bump and some hand wash, Lysol wipes or alcohol gel.

Think Namaste, Not Quite A Bow

Bowing to another person is certainly a sign of respect, and it should not be disparaged; however, I think Hinduism has a concept worth adding to the tactics here. “Namaste” is essentially bringing your hands in front of you, palm to palm, and adding a slight bow or, better yet, a nod. The word can mean “I bow to the divine in you,” but even if you are not Hindu, it is a courteous and respectful move. This right now is probably my favorite.

The human resources departments of the world are always working with people and their potential but also their issues. Complaints about hard handshakes, bone-crushing and intimidating gestures, can end or be lessened. Think of my client with the medical condition and think of all the people with sweaty, cold or otherwise not-ready-for-prime-time handshakes who can continue their careers shame-free without hand antiperspirants or the more severe iontophoresis medical devices shooting electrical currents to block and interrupt sweat.

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify? John M. O’Connor

John M. O'Connor

John M. O’Connor is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.