Handshake Or Fist-Bump?

Whether you are comfortable with this or not, the world is feeling very much “back to normal” --  people are out and about at events, engaging and doing business.   Still, there seems to be a new set of acceptable norms for last-minute cancellations and other things due to COVID. 

The one thing I can’t quite figure out yet is whether to shake hands or fist-bump. Is the handshake all the way back yet, or have we moved on to the acceptability of the jock-like bump to express our hello?

Historians have differing points of view on the intention of the handshake, but one interesting theory is, people shook hands to demonstrate there were no concealed weapons and nothing dangerous in their hands.  It was a symbol of mutual safety and respect.  It dates back to Babylonian art, and Homer in writing. 

On the other hand (pun intended), the origin of the fist-bump is originally credited to Stan Musial, the legendary baseball player who chose this way of saying hello because he kept catching colds from fans’ and other players’ handshakes.

Over the years, more and more people have adopted the fist-bump as a less formal way to say hello and establish a friendly tone. Fist-bumps are fun.  They are “hip.” They extend a sense of comfort and positivity to people. All that being said, do you fist-bump a Fortune 500 CEO?  Would you fist-bump the Queen of England?

When do you know which one to use?

I’ve been having in-person meet-ups for a few months now.  Probably 50% of the time the “hello” involves that awkward game of “rock, paper, scissors” where one person has a fist-bump out, one person has a hand extended, and both recognize and switch to the other gesture.  Sometimes it works out.  Sometimes you both smile and simply shake hands.  Sometimes the whole thing happens, you both laugh, and a hug ensues.

I’ve been to conferences where the attendee badge signals what the appropriate introduction would be (I love that).  I’ve been to other events where the introductory hand gesture is agreed to in advance (all bumps or all handshakes).   All these are great, but what about personal social settings? 

It's hard to come to a decision personally, because my tolerance changes depending on the situation and my own comfort level.  After meeting up with 10 or 15 people at a conference, I switch to a fist-bump.  In more casual situations, a fist-bump wins. 

Still, handshakes are important to me.  A firm handshake is a sign of confidence.  It signals a professional approach, and a mutual respect that a fist-bump barely rises to.  The handshake is my go-to, but I appreciate the way a fist bump de-escalates a situation quickly. 

My own personal use of these two hand gestures isn't consistent, and I don’t know what can make it so.  I feel I am going to be playing that game of “will they or won’t they” for many years to come.

I guess it all comes down to what your personal taste and comfort is in every situation -- what feels right and makes sense given the person on the other end. 

Here’s to the new normal!

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