The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
From summer 2015 through October 2019, I taught University of Arizona journalism students how to find internships and jobs, how to craft crisp résumés and compelling cover letters, and how to make it through an interview without passing out.
Of highest importance, I taught them how to shake hands. We’d practice when we first met, in the careers class I taught and before I sent them off to an interview. Sometimes, we’d practice in the coffee shop below my office if a student came up while I was waiting for my latte and offered a less-than-stellar handshake.
This surfeit of rehearsing was because I knew that a handshake communicates far more than most people realize. Indeed, nearly every hiring committee I’ve served on has had an awkward moment after interviews were completed when we were sorting through our picks and a committee member hesitantly asked, “But did you notice that handshake?”
Usually, it was a weak handshake that got attention, the kind that feels like you’re holding a dead fish or a 3-year-old’s paw, but sometimes it was the opposite – a powerful grasp that said, “I’m here to plow over everyone in my path.”
Perhaps the committee’s inference from a handshake was a mistake, but we inferred nonetheless. The laying on of hands, as it were, is a major factor in first impressions, and it happens just as much with the grizzly father of your significant other as with potential employers.
Or at least it used to, until a worldwide pandemic made shaking hands verboten, right along with hugging your friends and pecking the cheek of your mother-in-law.
Since that time, we’ve stumbled through a litany of greeting inelegance with awkward bows, elbow bumps, foot taps, jazz hands and – heaven forbid – finger guns.
I contend that none of the substitutes are as good as handshakes and it irritates the heck out of me that hands are now Enemy #2 (our breath being Enemy #1). I want them to be what they’ve always been in my life — a way to greet neighbors and colleagues, a sign of healing with family and friends.
Surely, I’m not the only person who misses seeing someone approach, hand outstretched and smile bright, offering an introduction and a “Nice to meet you!” I’m pretty confident that if a survey were taken about what people miss most since COVID-19 torched the world, physical touch would be top of the list, primarily handshakes and hugs.
I even miss exclaiming, “You’re kidding me!” just a few inches away from someone who has shared amazing news or interesting gossip. And secrets? Well, you just can’t do those 6 feet apart.
But for now, so much of our intimacy is gone. With a vaccine on the horizon, we may eventually be able to return to the grip and grin – along with hugs, cheek kisses and secret sharing – but I’m not holding my breath. I think we’re going to need alternatives for quite some time.
So, in the infant-new days of 2021, what are our options when greeting friends, potential employers or Crazy Uncle Larry when he shows up unannounced next week? Sure, we could stick with the half bow or full-on jazz hands, but maybe we should take a cue from other countries instead.
For instance, in Tibet, people greet guests by sticking out their tongues. As long as you’re 6 feet away, this is probably COVID-19 safe. Mongolians offer guests a strip of cut cotton or silk, but then we’d have to remember to bring fabric pieces with us everywhere, and I think we have a hard enough time remembering to bring our masks.
So, I’m leaning toward what happens in Zimbabwe. According to LifeSavvy.com, which reported on different cultural greetings for those of us suffering handshake withdrawal, Zimbabweans greet each other with an “ombera.” The ombera is a type of clapping meant to say hello, goodbye and thank you.
This is markedly better than foot taps or finger guns, and think of all the positivity it would provide. Who wouldn’t like a tiny ovation when they enter a room?
While I’m not exactly sure how the ombera would work in a job interview, I do know it would protect interviewees from being remembered as the one with the horrible handshake. And, looking back on everything we’ve lived through this past year, I’d say a little applause is warranted for all. So, clap away my friends, and say a hearty hello to 2021.
Renée Schafer Horton is a regular op-ed contributor. Her past lives were in higher education, journalism and as CEO of a small country called Home, population six. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Instagram @rshorton08.