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Shaking Hands—An Expected Norm In Business Today

I’m a female marketing consultant. I always greet new clients with a firm handshake. I generally don't do anything in subsequent meetings with people I already know. My question is, how should I greet my regular clients? Should I shake hands every time? I'm not a kisser and I don't want to give the wrong impression, but I never know if I should kiss or hug someone. I don't want to appear cold, but I don't want to give the wrong impression.

What's appropriate for female professionals?

M. D., Saugus, MA

Yes, whenever you greet someone, you should shake hands. It’s an expected norm in today’s business world. As a woman, by extending your hand first, you remove any question a male might have about whether or not to shake your hand. Conversely, if a person reaches out to shake your hand and you don’t reciprocate, it creates a very uncomfortable moment as the person stands there with his neglected hand dangling between you. All the focus of the greeting turns to why you didn’t shake his hand. You literally could damage an existing relationship or ruin your chances for gaining business from a prospect simply by not shaking hands.

The only excuse for not shaking is if you have a cold or the flu and don’t want to chance spreading your germs. In that case, offer an explanation as the greeting starts. For instance, at a first meeting with a prospect, you might say, “Please excuse me for not shaking. I have a cold and don’t want to chance giving it to you. I am so pleased to meet you.”

A woman who was in marketing once told me about her most important client, who invariably would greet by coming out from behind his desk and giving her a hug and kiss on the cheek. She was creeped out by his greeting but, at the same time, didn’t want to say or do anything to mar the relationship. Given that this had been going on for a while, doing something to prevent the hug and kiss probably would be noticed. She would have to decide if the effort to change the greeting was worth the risk of causing an awkward moment with her client.

In business hugs and/or kisses are not appropriate for any except people you know very well. Even then, it subtly shifts the focus away from the professional. What could Ms. Marketing have done to prevent the hug and kiss initially? At the first greeting, she holds her hand out to shake; then, if the person starts to move in for the hug and kiss, she should stiffen her arm gently to keep him from moving in. Works every time.

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