Can I Decline a Handshake?

By Joana Scharinger | Career Counselor | Office of Career Planning

You are at a networking event and you see someone politely coughing into their hand. A few minutes later, you are introduced to this person who immediately extends a hand to greet you. You are concerned about possible germs, but don’t want to be rude. What do you do?

Shaking hands is such an important aspect of the American culture that is an expected practice in most business events. If you are a foreigner, you often hear that if you want to make a good impression, you need to know how to shake hands confidently in the US, as mentioned in this article.  Declining a handshake can be considered rude and inappropriate in professional settings, which could potentially impact the connections you make and new business opportunities you get. So, if you are worried about getting the flu, should you prioritize being polite or being healthy?

Some people believe that declining to shake hands won’t make much of an impact on your health, as mentioned in the article, Handshake bans to stop the coronavirus might be overkill in most places. According to the article, you can prioritize washing your hands more often and staying home if you are sick. These would be more effective practices.

As an event organizer, consider implementing some preventative measures. For example, according to the article, Handshakes lose their grip as conferences ban touch due to coronavirus, some events are creating “no touch” policies which request people to not hug or shake hands. Some organizations started to add “Handshake free zone” signs to the workplace. 

According to the article, Skip the handshake? The etiquette dos and don’ts of flu season, if you are the one who is sick and you are offered a handshake, you might just say: “I’m so sorry, I’m not feeling well today and I don’t want to get you sick.” In conclusion, there is no straightforward answer and ultimately how you navigate this is a personal decision. With that said, if you shake someone’s hand, it’s a good idea to wash your hands and avoid touching your face. If you are the one who is sick, you should stay home. If you are an event organizer, consider implementing a “no-contact, no-handshake” policy.


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