A handshake is a powerful gesture that has – until now – withstood the test of time. With COVID-19, however, the world has turned to social distancing, promoting personal space and avoiding physical contact when possible in an effort to keep people safe and healthy. If this level of social distancing and personal-space continues after COVID-19, will handshaking come to an end?
At ConExpo this past year, they instituted a handshake ban to help stop the spread of the virus. Is this a trend that could continue? It may seem like a silly question to ask and an odd topic to think about, but handshakes are a more powerful tool than we often give them credit for. If handshakes go, then something will have to replace it.
A Brief History of the Handshake
Handshaking has been around for thousands of years. In fact, the practice of handshaking dates back to 500 B.C. in ancient Greece. The traditional handshake was more of an arm grab: the idea was to grasp the other person’s forearm to see if the other person had a knife or weapon hidden up their sleeve. In carvings dated back to 500 B.C., however, the handshake as we know it today can be seen. The shaking gesture is attributed to Medieval Europe when Knights would try to shake loose any hidden weapons on their opponent.
The handshake has naturally evolved over the two and a half thousand years since Ancient Greece. One thing, however, has remained the same. Offering a hand and having it grasped in return has always been a sign of good faith. Among businessmen, the handshake has become a formal greeting to show respect. People’s characters are judged by how they shake hands and it helps to form a first impression. It’s why career courses usually give a min-lesson on how to shake hands properly.
Image borrowed from The History Network.
The action has become a symbol of respect and trust. “Let’s shake on it” is a well-known phrase that highlights the authority that we as a society have given this simple action. Modern workplaces cite a strong handshake as a sign of personal confidence and steadiness. It’s a symbol that stretches across all industries, too – including construction.
The Handshake in Construction
Whether it’s greeting a new contractor on site, finalizing a project deal with a new partner or greeting an old buddy in the industry at a networking event, you’ll see as many handshakes in construction as you would in any other industry – maybe even more!
The values placed behind a strong handshake – trust, confidence, authority, openness, honesty and strength – are revered in our industry. Handshaking is a staple in construction. But that may not be possible moving forward.
The Need For A Handshake Alternative
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the value of handshaking into question. Yes, it is a great business and relationship building gesture – but it also spreads a lot of germs. Because of this, alternatives have come up for what could take the place of the handshake. Touching elbows, tapping feet, waving hands and even the classic finger guns.
The highest contender to replace the handshake? The fist bump.
Introducing the Fist Bump
In recent years, the “fist bump” has become more popular as an alternative to handshaking. The origins of the fist bump, funnily enough, comes from boxing. Boxers would bop gloves before a fight as a sign of goodwill and sportsmanship. This tradition flowed into other sports in the form of the fist bump then into sport watchers.
It wasn’t until 2008 when former-President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama fist-bumped before a campaign speech in Minnesota that it really took off. In fact, Obama has been well known for embracing the fist pump as an alternative to the handshake.
The general public embraced it and fist bumps became more common. But the rise of this method of greeting has continued to be seen as a more friendly, relaxed and – unfortunately – an unprofessional version of a handshake. But the standards of business may be forced to change and fist bumps could be on the rise.
Are Fist Bumps Cleaner Than Handshakes?
According to an article from Harvard Medical School, fist-bumping does in fact spread fewer germs than shaking hands. Shaking hands transmits twice as much bacteria than high fives and 10 times more bacteria than bumping fists.
Could Fist Bumps Be the Next Handshake?
With people becoming more aware and conscious of personal space and spreading germs, handshaking may meet its biggest challenge in over 2,000 years. But if this is the end of the handshake, it will have to be replaced with something else.
This nonverbal gesture of goodwill meets a social standard that’s almost an automatic reaction among us humans. It’s an aspect of our human nature that looks to these physical connections as a way to build relationships. Fist bumps could be the best alternative: it still involves a physical touch – unlike waving or the ever-popular finger guns – but does so in a much cleaner way.
A Modern Greeting for a Modernizing Industry
Construction is an industry that has used handshaking to convey trust, to build relationships and to close deals. The shift to fist bumps as the go-to greeting could be another way for the industry to move forward with the trends of the 21st century.
The industry as a whole has experienced huge changes in recent years – many of them challenging the “norms” and traditions that have led construction though the 20th century. Higher safety standards including mental health awareness, a push for gender balance and advanced technology in project management and equipment tech have all driven the industry forward. While the shift from handshaking to fist-bumping is being brought on by COVID-19, it could be another way for the industry to embrace modernity and move forward into the new era of construction.
We can still convey those values that are honoured in our industry – trust, confidence, authority, openness, honesty and strength – through a really solid fist bump instead of a firm handshake. Plus, it does look pretty cool.