First, let’s take a look at this social custom which is ingrained in so many, but by no means all, cultures. It is believed that the handshake started as a gesture of goodwill with the Greeks—revealing one’s open palm conveyed trust and the fact that no weapon was hidden. This open palm gesture evolved over time to what we see today as the handshake. It is used for greetings, to show respect, congratulations, used when departing one’s company, used to solidify formal agreements and more. There was a time when a person’s word and their handshake was all that was needed to seal a deal. While there may be many other forms of greeting around the world, in the world of business the handshake is still primarily the gesture that binds the agreement.
In the medical profession according to the article in JAMA “…the handshake has been shown to have the capability of improving the perception of the physician’s empathy and compassion. Handshakes between health care practitioners and their patients have the potential to comfort and calm.” The challenge is that the hands of health care workers become contaminated with pathogens and while there are very strict hygiene rules in place, compliance to those rules is only about 40%.
This statistic does not surprise me. I am always shocked at the number of women in the ladies’ room who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom. Or if they do wash their hands it is under cold water for just a few seconds. This is not enough time to kill any bacteria on their hands and then they open the door. All that bacteria is transmitted to the door handle, which is why you see more and more people using paper towels to open bathroom doors.
According to the JAMA article “…alcohol-based hand rubs, which have taken the place of hand-washing in many health care settings, have limited activity against some pathogens, including Clostridium difficile (a common cause of diarrhea in the health care setting)… multiple studies have demonstrated that the handshake can and does transmit pathogens.” Because of these studies the health care system is trying to get the word out in much the same way as they did with smoking. But the public will first have to be educated on the reasons for banning this established tradition. The article even suggests that we may begin seeing signage in health care facilities saying “Handshake-free zone” much the way we see No Smoking signs now.
In order to ban such an ingrained tradition, we must also come up with an appropriate alternative. To do so, we can look to other cultures where the handshake is not necessarily the only gesture or is not used at all. Some of the gestures that could be up for consideration and show greetings, peace, respect and more are:
Debbie Darling, ©2015 The Presentation Pros
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