I know, I am breaking one of the most basic rules of polite interaction, but this is what I have been saying to anyone I’ve met for the last month.
You see, I fell over while walking my dog Milo 2 months ago, causing me to break and misalign my right hand ring finger (see photo – ouch!). Since then, I have had an operation to correct the finger, and now that all the bruising and bandages have gone all looks well, with no external manifestation of the injury.
However, accepting the kind gesture of a handshake is still something I cannot do, the bone hasn’t yet healed and shaking someone’s hand is extremely painful (and may even cause permanent damage!). My issue is that to reject a hand that is thrust towards you in a friendly fashion is really hard, as it feels like the height of rudeness.
It has made me question, why do we shake hands? Where did it come from, and why does rejecting the handshake feel so rude? After a quick Google search, I found that the handshake is rumoured to originate from Greece in the 5th Century B.C. It was used as a symbol of peace, as showing an open palm indicated that neither party are carrying weapons.
So why is the handshake still relevant in today’s business world? Carrying weapons is definitely not the first thing I think about when leaving for the office! Most modern business blogs write about the importance of a strong handshake in the workplace, but the meaning has shifted to be about setting the tone of the relationship, conveying your abilities and offering a personal connection to your future business or social interactions.
Conversely, refusing a handshake sends a whole host of negative connotations; they’re shifty, they’ve got something to hide, or they’re germ-phobic I have to say no no no I’m not! I just don’t want to re-break my delicate finger!
So if you see me, or anyone else refuse a handshake, please do not think we are being rude, there could be all sorts of hidden reasons. I look forward to getting to know you with a cheery wave instead.
I would love your input on this, colleagues and contacts have offered several alternative suggestions, from a fist bump to a high five, to a wave. Which do you think I should choose, and would you be offended if someone refused your handshake?