Learning How to Greet Others in a COVID-19 World

We have been warned that close proximity to others can expose us to COVID-19, so we’re all limiting errands and social experiences. But even in these situations, you may find yourself running into neighbors and friends. How do you greet them if hugs and handshakes are out of the question?

We have all been wondering how to professionally and socially acknowledge others in today’s climate of germ fear. We could get all serious about this because germs make us nervous, or we could really understand that the purpose of greeting others is connection. Think about the wild handshakes and full dance moves that have evolved over time. Though they may not be the answer for us today, it gives us room to review and experiment. After all, new times need new ideas. So here is a review of our current greeting methods with a challenge for us all to decide what we want to do instead – but in a way that builds connection, respect and feeling cared for.

Handshake – totally out of the question. Our hands are the germ catchers that spread to our faces and to the hands of others we touch.

Fist bump – also out of the question. This is still the same hand that caught the germs. Germs don’t just rest on the fingers. The entire hand is the germ deliverer. So, no fist bumping…

Elbow bump – seemed a better option until we remember that we have been coached to sneeze in our elbows. And though we may be a master at sneezing directly into the elbow, we don’t always get it on the inside, which means the outside elbow, or the clothes we are wearing, could be affected. So, no elbow bumping…

Foot bump – seemed a better option until we remember that all of us sneeze downward, whether into our hands or elbows. And most sneezes are delivered with such force that there is always some portion of it delivered to the area down by our feet. Besides, how personal does it feel to connect with someone by clicking ankles or bumping feet? Makes me think of an early 90s dance move… one that didn’t last, so, no foot bump…

Wave – better because we can do it from a distance, but when you are up close or in the same room, the wave is very impersonal. Sure, there is no physical contact, but then it doesn’t create the more intimate rapport that a greeting is designed to create. (Remember, a popular theory of the handshake began as a gesture to create trust because by shaking with your weapon hand, it showed you were not holding a weapon and therefore were not a threat. Also, that by shaking the hand, it showed that you had no other weapons up your sleeve). I was just imaging a group of American CEOs waving to each other in the same room, just feet apart… Hmmn… don’t think that’s the response. So, waving isn’t really the best option…

Bow – in some cultures, this is the proper way to greet. In fact, in heavily populated countries, like China and Japan, this is a respectful and conventional greeting method. I admit, though, that I can’t see a group of American CEOs bowing to each other… Hmmn… don’t think we are there yet.

But, if you add folded hands to a brief bow as in the Hindu greeting, Namaste, maybe we’ve found a greeting we all can use to acknowledge others, to greet with care without physical contact. The Namaste greeting projects a non-threatening position that also includes an acknowledgement of the other’s greatness. As I understand it, Namaste means both, “I bow to you,” but in a more spiritual sense, it also means “may the divine in me acknowledge the divine in you,” or “may our minds meet.” It is a warm, authentic and caring greeting that reflects respect and friendship and allows people to connect deeply, personally and without any physical contact. Meaningful message sent without fear of germ transmission. Perhaps Namaste (greeting with a brief bow) could really be the best option…

The COVID-19 outbreak is challenging us to be more aware in limiting our physical contact while not giving up on ensuring that others feel respected, valued and cared for in our greeting. Now, all we do is start to shake hands but then pull away before touching and shrug that we don’t know what to do. Pretty ineffective.

I personally would love to see the gentle, kind and heartfelt Namaste gesture – folded hands and brief bow – as our new normal. Will try it this week to see the response I get.

Take Action
What do you want to start using to connect with family, friends and business colleagues? What could you do that not only creates a greeting but lightens the mood a bit? Who knows, you may create our next new regular greeting.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading 3 Ways to Help Your Employees Become More Mindful

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