The human handshake is believed to date back to the 5th Century B.C in Greece. It’s the globally recognised signal when greeting another person or saying goodbye. Historically the handclasp demonstrated that no weapons were held in the hand, the shaking of the hand showed that the other party had nothing literally ‘up their sleeve’. Even the type of handshake communicates a great deal about the relationship between two parties – if the hand is placed on top of the other’s hand it can signify power and show that the individual has ‘the upper hand’. It can also demonstrate that you belong to a particular group so denotes belonging and recognition.
However, the hand is a potent purveyor of germs. Referred to by Leia Given in the American Journal of Nursing as ‘the agent of bacterial transfer’. We’re told that a handshake passes on 90% more germs than a fist bump. So as Coronavirus tightened its grip on the world’s population, we were told to stop physical contact including handshakes, hugging and kissing as part of a policy of social distancing. Suddenly, the outstretched hand, which historically has been a signal of peace and in modern days a symbol of friendship and trust has become like having a loaded gun pointed at us from which we recoil in horror. Literally that outstretched hand could infect us and maybe at worst even kill us.
This presents us as human beings with some distinct challenges. We are programmed to physically touch the people with whom we communicate – often called by psychologists as ‘touch hunger’ or ‘skin hunger’. Touching others and being touched are integral parts of human interaction. We know from research that it can reduce levels of stress, lower blood pressure and improve the function of the immune system. So, in the post lockdown life, whenever it arrives, we’ll no longer be touching or if we do, we will have all sorts of restrictions placed upon us. The W.H.O said recently that our world will be very different as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic so it won’t just be the handshake that could potentially disappear but many other aspects of our physical interactions.
How will this affect our business relationships? We will have to adopt new habits. But will a fist bump, high five or elbow knock feel the same as a handshake, a hug or a kiss? Maybe to be even safer we’ll just have to smile, bow or wave? Will that be enough to ‘seal a deal’, help us to establish an honest relationship or create trust in those that we do business with? It will be very strange at first, but human beings are incredibly resilient and have a huge capability to cope with change. We’ve become very used to, relatively quickly, pirouetting around our fellow shoppers in supermarkets, dancing the ‘coronavirus cha cha cha’ as its been aptly named. So maybe it won’t be so difficult to change our habits of a lifetime – but only time will tell.