Your new handshake

Bibi Boas Bondesen

By Pia Torreck, Partner at Ingvardsen ll Partners.

A handshake has many meanings; “Welcome”, “I’ve seen you”, “thank you for a good deal”, “goodbye”, “see you” etc. At a time when we need to keep our distance and reduce infection, we need to develop new rituals. The traditional handshake, a hug and a high-five are gone. But what do we do instead? What is important when you want to say hello? Is an “elbow bump” greeting the best alternative? What greeting will send relationship-creating signals and at the same time comply with the “keep distance” regime?

The first impression is important. If you give a good first impression to a certain person, there is a chance to create a relationship that can lead to many opportunities, perhaps even a year-long collaboration.
It’s the overall impression that counts: your eye contact, your smile, your attitude, your body language and more.

A 2006 study conducted at Princeton University documented that it takes exactly a tenth of a second to assess a person. The research shows that our brains perceive much verbal and nonverbal information at the very moment we first meet a person.

After all, a weak handshake is no longer relevant, so what do we want to keep an eye on now?

Do not hesitate! Take the initiative and send a clear signal. An awkward situation occurs only if your body language becomes difficult to decode. Show with your body language what kind of greeting you want to take the initiative. Will you greet with a slight belly; a hand on the heart; or will you give an elbow salute?

Keep eye contact. A greeting with firm eye contact is important. If your eyes turn too quickly, you send submissive signals. Conversely, if you keep eye contact for too long, you show dominance signals.

Smile – it is contagious! Like the virus that has become an everyday concept, so do emotions – both positive and negative. In the brain there are mirror neurons and your smile will immediately activate the mirror neurons of the person you greet. When we are infected with positive emotions, immediately more openness is created in the relationship.

Think positively about the person you should greet. Many of your thoughts and feelings are expressed in your micro-expressions. Several signals you send will be perceived by the other person in his subconscious.

It is a classic in several countries that instead of reaching out for a handshake, it puts over the heart of respect for the other person. Then, for example, you can add a little nod. A variant may be the Hindu namaste greeting with the palms pressed against each other in front of the chest and fingers pointed towards the sky.

An elbow greeting may be another alternative, but it may seem contradictory that we should sneeze and cough in the elbow and not in the hand – and then greet the elbow afterwards.

So, make some considerations. Which greeting would you prefer? How would you clearly show that you prefer that greeting? And to what extent have you chosen a greeting that helps to create a positive relationship?

About the author

Bibi Boas Bondesen


Director Executive Search, Head of International


  • Executive Search Consultant
  • Head of Business Development
  • Trade Support
  • Client Services Manager

Bibi has delivered Executive Search to a wide range of industries.
Bibi has most recently worked with Executive Search at Spencer Stuart and The Ashton Partnership in London, and she was previously employed by Morgan Stanley.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Mathematics and Statistics from the London School of Economics and an MBA from Copenhagen Business School.

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