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Hand Shake Replacement: Elbow Bump, Fist Bump, Or Wave?

Originally posted on March 27, 2020 8:46 am
Updated on March 31, 2020 1:50 pm

Over a decade ago, founder of TechCrunch Mike Arrington ranted about why we should all stop shaking hands as a ritual in all things business and social. He cited all the germs and unhealthy reasons we shouldn’t do it, and suggested some alternatives like bowing and fist bumping.


The Elbow Bump

For some reason he was anti elbow-bump, but if you’ve ever met him, Mike Arrington is super tall and tended to wander Palo Alto’s University Ave walking his dog. Elbow bumping someone much shorter than you while getting tangled with a dog leash is probably awkward. For those of us on the shorter side, I’ve come to terms with the unequal height bump, which usually requires some raised arm-pit action. It’s not bad in the winter, but I can see problems in Bay Area weather and attire.



Fist Bump

The Fist Bump seems to be a hybrid of sorts. You are still touching the other person’s exposed skin, and any germs on their knuckles. The fist also defeats one of the original medieval purposes of the handshake: to show the other side you are not holding a weapon. Or for more modern times, fist bumping just feels more of a bro-culture move, further promoting Brotopia as Emily Chang would say, and alienating those who prefer the more gentle and empathetic hand shake.


The Wave

Not a bad alternative for the anti-elbow people. As a software engineer an introvert, I like the wave because it is what we call an order-one algorithm. In the old hand-shaking world, if you meet 5 new people in a meeting, you feel obligated to shake all 5 hands. It gets increasingly strange when you hit a room of say, 9 people — small enough that it’s weird to leave anyone out, but not large enough where it’s obviously too impractical.

I’m a fan of the wave, but its biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. It isn’t personal. You wave at the whole room, or these days, at the entire Zoom gallery view of collaborators. Perhaps in this work-from-home era, we will learn to get more efficient and turn greeting rituals from linear order-N processes into order-one.

One solution is the wave and mini-nod. You can still personally greet or say goodbye to a small group of 3 or 4 people, if you wave at each one, one-by-one, and sort of nod your head to each one. And if the crowd is too big, you can convert it to a mass wave to all of them. You pan the room while waving, as if your hand were a flame-thrower or shower head, and you’ve engulfed everyone in the spray.

What solutions do you have for navigating the post handshake world?

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