Survey Results: How Important Is Shaking Hands?

tom cruise

If someone extended their hand, but you didn't know where that hand had been, would you shake it?

When Cvent blogger Patti Shock wrote about The Pros & Cons of Your Next Hand Shake back in July 2012, we were intrigued and wanted to know how our readers really felt about this ubiquitous gesture of good will. 

At the bottom of Shock's post we appended a survey, asking readers to weigh in on three questions:

  • How important is hand shaking?
  • What precaution do you most frequently take (& expect others to take) against infection?
  • If hand-shaking were outlawed tomorrow, which would be your preferred greeting?

The results are in: Of the 100 respondents, the majority (38%) view shaking hands as "Very Important," while 33% regard the gesture as "Important." A minority (12%) even regard hand shaking as "Vital."

"A hand shake is a powerful reflection of trust and an intent of a healthy relationship," said Vinod Mehra, a UAE-based sales trainer, who suggests people "continue shaking hands and building bridges." According to speaker and author Juanita "Event Diva" Gaynor, hand shaking "sets a professional tone and adds a personal touch that we sometimes neglect in the world of social media." Christopher Ulrich, CEO of NYC SEO, agrees that "a good firm hand shake speaks to the person receiving it, and establishes a confidence and authority level when you give it."

However, even hand shaking enthusiasts acknowledge that "pressing the flesh" can pose serious challenges, ranging from aesthetics to etiquette to health risks. Ulrich maintains that a proper handshake should be neither the grip of death nor the limp noodle. Robin Barros, owner of Barrels, Boxes & More in Hartford, CT, remembers a salesman who "would shake hands with all the guys and would only shake my hand when I offered first. When I questioned him, he said his mom had taught him it was not polite to shake a women's hand." She added, "I am proud to shake the hand of anyone who offers that courtesy."

Jennifer Juergens, a NYC-based public relations professional, said that she recently shook hands with "someone who turned around and took out the wee bottle of antiseptic gel. I was floored! I think people have gotten a bit paranoid!" Perhaps, but nearly a quarter of the people (24.24%) in our survey use hand sterilizer; the rest resort to frequent (35%) and regular handwashing (31%). The most microbe-vigilant include international travelers, and for good reason: "Not doing so in Korea landed me in one of their hospitals for 9 days!" said Denver-based healthcare professional and speaker Maria K. Todd. Others, who have had brushes with epidemics like SARS, also prefer to err on the side of Purell. 

If, for whatever reason, the hand shake were outlawed tomorrow, most people would literally "bow" (42%) to the inevitable. As Vincent Vanderbent, Denver-based professional trainer, put it, "We never know how hard to squeeze, and what the other person may think of our hand shake. So much to think about. I wish someone high up would set an example in this area. Let's hug, kiss or bow instead."

What, no fist bump? Actually, after the bow, the fist bump (24%) edged out the hug (17%) as the next preferred form of greeting. (Air kissing fared fourth, at 8%.)

However, let's return to our original question, with a qualification: If Tom Cruise (pictured) extended his hand, but you didn't know where that hand had been, would you shake it? You bet, said Teresa M. Carboni, NYC-based Art Director at Mechanical Engineering Magazine, who had just run into the actor in front of the Empire State Building. Then, answering the unspoken question: "No I haven't washed my hand yet. But momentarily, LOL."

To learn more about about meeting customs, read Food for Thought: Dining Etiquette and Be Nice! 

Photo: Courtesy Teresa M. Carboni

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