There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the handshake in a professional setting. People often judge your competence based on the way you shake their hand. It may even affect whether or not someone wants to do business with you.
But what should you do if you have a contagious illness? If you’re sick, should you still shake?
Career coach Barbara Pachter says the simple answer is, yes, you should because it’s simply too awkward to deny the handshake.
“The handshake is still the business greeting in the United States, and people expect a handshake,” says Pachter in her new book “The Essentials Of Business Etiquette.” Basically, she says that if you don’t shake someone’s hand, “you are cutting yourself off from them.”
If you plan to shake, there are a few things you can do to avoid inflicting your sickness on your companion. Before your meeting or event, you should take precautions by using medication to suppress signs of illness. Pachter says you should also discreetly use a hand sanitizer right before shaking others’ hands.
If you don’t feel comfortable shaking hands at all, you can simply inform the other party that you aren’t feeling well. Take note, though, that if you do this, you’re risking an awkward interaction.
Alex Lickerman, M.D., writes in Psychology Today that he usually says, “I’m sick, so I’m not shaking hands today … I’m bowing instead.” And then he bows towards the other party, a common greeting in Japan.
For those on the other side of this handshake dilemma — perhaps you saw someone sneeze into their hand and now you don’t want to shake it — etiquette follows that you shake it anyway. Then go to the bathroom, and wash your hands thoroughly.
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