The Business of Shaking Hands: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Hand shaking is common to conducting business. Many people take pride in their grip which is meant to convey warmth, strength, and mutual respect. However, from a health perspective, this practice must now be viewed with caution. Almost 25% of the people do not wash their hands after using the toilet.

The October 8, 2007 issue of American Medical news (page 33) cites research, which reveals a large discrepancy between what people say they do and what they actually do after using a public bathroom.

According to a study commissioned jointly by the American Society for Microbiology, and the Soap and Detergent Association, 92% of the people claimed that they always wash hands after using a public restroom. However, observations in public places such as train stations and sports stadiums showed that, in fact, only 77% of the people washed their hands after using the restroom.

The study further reports that significantly more women (88%) than men (66%) wash their hands after using a public restroom. “Very clearly, guys need to step up to the sink,” said Brian Sansoni, Vice President of Communication for the Soap Association (October 8, 2007 American Medical News, p.33).

When you extend your hand to shake someone else’s, you will never hear the other person retreat and say, “Sorry, but I did not wash my hands after going to the toilet today.” Instead you are likely to get a strong, firm, and an enthusiastic handshake with a big smile possibly covering up an unpleasant truth.

It would appear that the good old handshake, which is meant to create trust between people, is potentially unhealthy unless both parties follow common sense and good personal hygiene. Perhaps the Chinese had it right all along in their custom of simply bowing their heads politely to other people instead of shaking their hands.

My brother and some Indian friends have suggested to me that a similar analysis is possible of the Indian greeting of “Namaste”. However, I am not sure about that. The Indian culture is different than the Chinese culture in some fundamental ways. Indians love to hold hands. I know that Indians love to hug. We even have a hugging saint named Ammachi. She spends a lot of time actively hugging people. See the link below.

India’s Hugging Saint

Anyway, back to the original topic.

Washing hands with soap and use of alcohol based rubs to sanitize hands have proven to be effective techniques in health care settings in reducing infection rates. Similarly, it is clear that carrying a hand sanitizer is a must for every business professional whose job involves shaking many hands everyday.

Of course, it may be politically incorrect for you to take out the sanitizer immediately after shaking someone’s hands. However, a relatively discrete application of the sanitizer a few minutes later would seem to be be acceptable. If someone notices it and asks, one can always say, “my hands are very dry. I always carry this lotion with me. Would you like try it?”

Another option would be to simply stop shaking hands. When someone offers their hand, you could say with warmth and sincerity, “I would much rather hug you.” Obviously, this is not the norm among business professionals today. But every custom must start somewhere with a brave person.

If hugging replaced handshaking, It could lead to a better world and possibly more harmony and global peace. Imagine, if all the world leaders, when they met, had to hug each other tightly for at least two minutes. Would things be better with long hugs? It’s hard to say but certainly worth a try.

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