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How Do You Avoid an Awkward Introduction During an Epidemic?

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

Keep your hands to yourself. Handshakes are taboo in the time of Coronavirus.

The proper way to introduce yourself is something I’m consistently asked about during etiquette training. Most people default to the handshake, which is what I instruct. Others love to go right in for the hug! There is a right and wrong place for that.

Lately, because of the news surrounding Coronavirus (COVID-19), I’ve been asked how we should adjust introductions to respond to the warnings. Is it ever okay to not shake hands?

The answer is; yes, it is more than okay. In fact, it is probably a very good idea to skip the handshake (and especially skip the hug!) altogether.

As a society, we have been shaking hands for centuries as we meet, greet and even “seal a deal.”. Social codes dictate that we extend our hands when meeting others as a sign of respect. However, in times of outbreaks, such as the Coronavirus, the experts tell us that we should be responsible, and take precautions to prevent contracting, or spreading, a virus.

So, how do we navigate being polite, while also being responsible?

It is simple and smart when you meet and greet people in these next few weeks and months, to say, “Hello, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m sure you’ll understand if we do not shake hands given the current outbreak.”

The person you are meeting will most likely be relieved. Wouldn’t you be? Do not go into an elaborate excuse, keep it short and to the point.

The important element is to speak up first and establish that you are not going to shake hands. This saves face by eliminating an awkward situation if the other person extends their hand, you won’t shake it, and then they have to somehow gracefully lower their hand.

The trickier question is what to do instead. Are we supposed to bump elbows, bow or something else entirely?

If you are meeting someone for the first time, and you have politely voiced that you are not going to shake hands, it might be awkward to try to initiate an elbow bump. Use your social skills to read the moment. If it feels right, give it a try.

The most likely and easiest option is to nod your head, as a signal of your respect.

The decision not to shake hands does not have to be complicated. Be polite and keep it simple, respectful and healthy by speaking up first.


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