Do We Really Need to Shake Hands?

Many people are grossed out by moist or sweaty hands, and some fear germs and dirt, but what's the alternative?

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By Deborah Mitchell


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It was June 25, National Handshake Day, when I started to think about my handshake. It turns out, the way you greet someone, including your handshake, is more telling than you think. One story about the history of the handshake reveals that the hand grasp was a way to demonstrate peace and to show that a person was not carrying a gun when they met someone.

A recent survey of 1,000 Americans found that 72 percent believe that the way a person shakes hands says a lot about them. While 66 percent of respondents in the survey say they are disgusted by a moist or sweaty hand, 46 percent say they find a loose or limp handshake to be displeasing.

Personally, I find a wet, clammy handshake from a man or woman to be unsanitary. A man using his fingertips to lead a limp shake is a complete turnoff in business. It feels weak and noncommittal.

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"When it comes to people, I 'judge a book by its cover.' I bet you do, too. We can't help ourselves. It's human nature," writes Marian Rivman, a New York-based public relations and communications consultant, in a blog post, Do You Have Conference Curb Appeal? "When meeting someone new, we give her/him the 30-second once-over. Is this someone we want to know? Someone we would be comfortable with? And rest assured, if we're doing it to them, they're doing the same thing when they meet us."

In a meet and greet, it usually begins with the handshake. The survey also revealed that Americans are cautious about spreading germs when shaking hands, with 64 percent using a fist bump as an alternative to a handshake. The fist bump is pretty much in vogue thanks to President Barack Obama. He was a presidential candidate when he used it affectionately to greet his wife, Michelle, onstage at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The bumpshake went viral. Now, President Obama continues to use the bumpshake with his family, friends, strangers and in official greetings.

I see the bumpshake as a guy thing -- not so many women are using the fist bump to greet one another.

I can completely understand the desire not to shake hands at all since I've seen people sneeze and cough into their hands and then want to shake my hand or open the door for me. Gross.

I'm not sure how Donald Trump is going to handle the presidential campaign trail, since he does not believe in shaking hands. He's a mysophobe -- a person who fears germs. I suppose he will be fine since the fear of germs hasn't stopped comedian and television host Howie Mandel from interacting with the public. As a matter of fact, it became a part of his shtick when he was host of the now-defunct game show Deal or No Deal, where he greeted contestants with a bumpshake.

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Trump has said in interviews that the handshake is "one of the curses of American society." He's clearly uncomfortable with the handshake. So what about other greetings around the globe? Sixty-eight percent of Americans in the survey admit they would feel awkward greeting someone with a kiss on the nose and 60 percent said they would feel uncomfortable touching foreheads as a form of salutation.

Having an eclectic group of friends from around the world, I've gotten into the personal habit of greeting folks with a single or double kiss on the cheek. I have to remember not to lean in for a kiss in business. While kissing on two cheeks is familiar to many Americans, 46 percent in the survey said that would make them feel uncomfortable. Better stick to the handshake, then. Just know that the next time you shake a person's hand, be sure to give it your all because most people are judging you.

Instead of a handshake, which of the "top 10 greetings that make americans feel uncomfortable" would you use in business?

1. Rubbing noses
2. Kiss on the nose
3. Touching foreheads
4. Kiss on two cheeks
5. Kiss on one cheek
6. Deep bow
7. Back slapping
8. Bowing slightly at the waist
9. Holding hands together in front of your chest
10. Lightly touching hands and grazing palms

Related: Insights: What Makes a Great Handshake

Deborah Mitchell

CEO & Founder, Deborah Mitchell Media Associates

Emmy-nominated network television producer Deborah Mitchell is a veteran of ABC and CBS News, a member of the Producers Guild of America, and a board member of the James Beard Broadcast and Media Awards Committee. Through Deborah Mitchell Media Associates she will create your online personality with a customized website, book you on the right television show, manage your social media profiles and finally connect you with the best and brightest digital influencers. Mitchell is author of So You Want To Be On TV

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