How the Coronavirus Has Changed the Etiquette of Business Interactions

The way we interact with others in business has been disrupted. The public health crisis we’re currently facing in 2020, the Coronavirus, has led to many of the etiquette habits that were commonly used to foster good relationships in business to vanish, at least until this pandemic is under control.

It’s likely that you’ve chosen or have been encouraged to change the way you interact with people in business and in social situations. You’ve probably heard of the term, “social distancing” and may be implementing it.

Social distancing can help keep you safe during this time, but it raises a dilemma in the world of business etiquette and can leave many people confused as to how they should interact at work and in public.

How can you continue to foster good relationships and build know, like and trust with your business associates when you can’t meet face-to-face?

Having taught over 3,000 students in my online business etiquette course, Business Etiquette 101: Social Skills for Success the traditional elements of good business etiquette that we’ve been using for years, I felt the need to write this article updating those recommendations for the current situation.

In this article, I will first look at how the Coronavirus has impacted the concept of building know, like and trust and then offer you alternatives to incorporate into your everyday business life during this restricted time.

Above all, your safety and health come first. So I encourage you to find information from your country or local health department as to what precautions to take to keep you and your family safe. I’ve linked to a couple of websites here:

World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov

I also encourage you to use your common sense. Think about the situation you’re in and identify how you can make it as safe as possible for yourself, your team and your colleagues, while maintaining good working relationships in business.

How the Know, Like and Trust Factor has Been Impacted

Any strong business relationship is built on a solid foundation of know, like and trust. This is the cornerstone that all of my students in Business Etiquette 101: Social Skills for Success video course get equipped with before they move on to learning about good business etiquette practices.

However, because of social distancing and the changes in social interactions people are adopting, the know, like and trust factor cannot be created in the same way.

Normally we would use familiarity to get people to “know” us. This means being visible in the office, attending networking events and meetings. But if we can’t attend in-person events or are forced to work from home, how can we build familiarity with others business?

We’re also accustomed to using greetings, touching, or personal space to convey genuine interest and get others to “like” us. With these habits frowned upon, what are we to do now?

When it comes to building trust, this is heavily reliant on showing your credibility and competence which people would normally do by speaking up in meetings and sharing their thoughts and opinions. If in-person meetings are no longer taking place, how can we establish trust?

These are all pertinent questions my students are currently asking themselves and I’m sure many other business people out there are too. Here are some ideas on how you can adapt your business etiquette habits to the current situation so you can continue to foster good relationships with others in business.

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1. Build Familiarity on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a perfect tool to use if you can’t meet people face-to-face. It allows you to network and connect with new people, increase your visibility by liking and commenting on other people’s posts and show your competence through posting intelligent content.

I encourage you to take this downtime to get your profile up and ready. Start interacting with people. You can begin by interacting with your colleagues and clients, then reach out to new connections whom you’d like to add to your network.

Remember, the online connections you make during the time can be turned into in-person connections once this health crisis is over.

I post everyday on LinkedIn. This isn’t because of the current situation. It’s because LinkedIn is a social media platform that works for me. If you’d like to get updates on the leadership and soft skills videos that I post everyday on LinkedIn, then head over to my profile here or follow the hashtag #execimpressions.

2.Replace Handshakes With Other Greetings

The traditional greeting in western business etiquette, the handshake, is frowned upon right now. The reason for this is it requires touching or hand-to-hand contact. To reduce the spread of the Coronavirus, handshakes are not recommended in business at this time.

Other greetings which are not recommended are hugs, high-fives, a kiss on the cheek (“faire la bise”), fist-bumps or any other greeting which requires person-to-person contact.

But these greeting are so ingrained in our social behaviour. How can we appropriately greet somebody in business without shaking hands? Here are some options that don’t require touching.

Elbow Bumping or Foot Shakes
You’ve probably heard of people recommending elbow bumps or foot shakes. If you feel comfortable with these options, then I encourage you to use them. They avoid person-to-person contact and still convey your gratitude in meeting the other person.

Wave

This is similar to the high-five, but without the touching. You still show the other person you’re happy to see them but don’t have any hand-to-hand contact.

Bow
Why not incorporate an Asian style greeting in your business interactions? A simple bow or nod of your head can communicate a lot of gratitude and empathy to the other person.

Smile
A simple smile can immediately compensate for the inability to shake hands in business. It conveys friendliness, happiness and will absolutely make the other person feel that you’re delighted to meet them.

3. Communicate Clearly Why You’re Not Shaking Hands

If somebody extends their hand requesting a handshake from you, and you don’t feel comfortable with it, it’s important to clearly communicate why you’re not shaking hands at this time.

Most of the time, people will extend their hand for a handshake without thinking about it. It’s innocent on their behalf, but it’s important for you to tell them that you’re not shaking hands at this time and give them a reason why.

Here are some things you can say:

  • “I apologise. I’m not shaking hands at the moment. But I’m very happy to meet you”.
  • “I’m avoiding handshakes at the moment. But let’s bump elbows instead”. Making a joke out of it can help lighten the situation.
  • “I’m being mindful of my hygiene at the moment, but I’m delighted to meet you”.

The key here is to be polite and express that you’re delighted to meet them, despite this awkward situation.

4. Use the Other Person’s Name to Show Genuine Interest

If you can’t convey interest as you normally would because physical contact is restrained, you need to compensate this with your verbal communication. The easiest and most effective way for you to do this is to use the other person’s name in conversation.

Dale Carnegie once said, “a person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language”. If you think back to a time when you heard somebody address you by your name, you might be able to remember it triggered feelings of happiness and importance.

Using the other person’s name in conversation is one of the tips I share with my Business Etiquette 101: Social Skills for Success students and they’ve had a lot of success in using it.

But remember, you have to say it with a positive tone of voice and a smile. Otherwise they may think you’re reprimanding them that that would break the positive working relationship you’re trying to establish.

5. Use Body Language and Good Eye Contact to Show You Care

Body language and eye contact is great to convey interest in the other person. You can still maintain a healthy distance from people and express that you’re interested in what they’re saying.

How do you do that?

Use good eye contact and open body language. Don’t cross your arms or fold them over your body. This creates a barrier between you and the other person. Instead use open arm gestures and look them in the eye while smiling.

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6. Switch In-Person Coffee Meetings to Virtual Coffee Meetings

A lot of people are hesitant to virtual meetings. It’s a new concept for many people and because it’s new, it requires them to move out of their comfort zone and do something they’ve never done before. This is daunting.

But often, changes in the environment around us push us to change the way we’ve always done things. Embrace this. Don’t fight it.

I’ve done a number of virtual coffee meetings with people and I even provide my leadership coaching services online. At first it was daunting, but after the first Skype call, it was a breeze. It’s just like having a chat with somebody in-person but you don’t have the driving time involved.

If you’d like to try virtual meetings but you’re daunted by it, I suggest you have your first meeting with a close colleague or a friend. It will get you used to talking online via a web camera, navigating the software and working out lighting that makes you look good on camera.

7. Ask People If They Need Help

In times of survival, it’s the fastest and fittest who win. But not everybody can compete at this level. There are many people out there in society who are getting left behind during this chaotic time.

The elderly and disabled and the prime groups that we need to look out for. You might have people in your neighbourhood who need help. Reach out to them. Ask them if they’re okay. Do they need supplies that you might be able to source for them? Do they need someone to speak with? You can exchange phone numbers and call them.

Also don’t forget that charity organisations would welcome supplies at this time. So if you have food or other essentials that you can spare, show some thought for those organisations.

Human relationships, manners, decency, consideration and care for others don’t need to suffer. And your business relationships certainly don’t need to be forgotten.

The current crisis will pass. I want you to be ready to resume business when the time comes. I hope these tips and ideas that I shared with you in this article will help you nurture and maintain your business relationships until we see the end of this crisis.

Learn assertive communication skills in an online course

Click this image to view Kara’s online video courses.

If you find yourself working from home at this time or simply taking a break, then consider spending your time up-skilling yourself. There are many courses available online that you can do in the quiet of your own home.

ONLINE VIDEO COURSES

Currently, I have four online video courses around soft skills that you might be interested in looking at.

With over 4,000 students in these video courses, they are a great way to enhance your interpersonal and communication skill for business. Click on the links above to watch the free preview videos and see if one of these courses is for you.

THE LEADERSHIP POD, PODCAST

You can also listen to my weekly podcast, The Leadership Pod, from the comfort of your home on Apple Podcast, Spotify and a number of other podcast platforms. This podcast is designed for emerging leaders who want to build their visibility and influence to unlock their leadership potential.

Here is the link to Apple Podcasts so you can check it out.

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About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox