Sunday, September 1, 2013

Handshakes? Kisses? Bows?

Handshakes, bows, kisses.    These are the physical elements of greeting rituals, how we first engage with people we meet – wherever we are.
And greetings can be tricky.   

Just this week not following the rules of traditional protocol during a greeting made the headlines.  Pope Francis chose to greet Queen Rania of Jordon with a bow, a gesture of respect and honor.  Unique for a Pope to bow to a visitor rather protocol requires the visitor to bow.  Not that day. (

For most of us our greetings will never be picked up by the international press.  But getting it right or wrong can make a difference in our connections with the people we meet, the deals we do, the partnerships or teams we hope to build.

It’s easy to assume that the form of greeting we use at home will be considered polite and appropriate everywhere.  But it’s not true.  What’s polite varies around the world.  

A reminder of that reality is included in an article in the current issue of Monocle  (  in a piece titled  “Inside Track:  Business Etiquette some key points to consider if you’re doing business in Burma, China, Mexico or Ghana are discussed.  One of the topics:  Greetings.  According to the article, in Burma business cards are more important than other formalities.  In Ghana, remember to use academic or professional titles along with a handshake. 

But not all handshakes are alike.  In Mexico its firm, in the Middle East a firm handshake can be considered rude.  In Thailand and China handshakes are not part of the traditional greeting ritual.

Before you engage with people from other places, other countries, other traditions it’s good to do some research so the greeting you extend carries the message you intend:  I’m pleased to meet you,  to get to know you, to do business with you.

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