A few months ago, we had the pleasure of attending a fancy networking event in Europe. It was lovely, and they had free food, too -- you can't beat a great networking event with free food, but we digress. Many politicians and representatives of the European Union were in attendance as well, and we were delighted to enjoy a nice evening with them. During the course of the evening, we ran into a somewhat uncomfortable situation and wanted to share it with all of you to get your input and ideas.
|Networking in fancy places. The Wolseley in London.|
We were walking up to the hotel's (very fancy) bathrooms, and a well-respected legislator came out of the bathroom. We had met him before and wanted to say hello. He clearly recognized and was happy to see us. In accordance with Central European tradition, we moved closer to shake his hand. However, he quickly pulled back his hand, apologizing profusely that they were still wet after washing them. Now, for those of you who have lived or done business in Central Europe, you know that the handshake is a key element of social and professional interaction, and refusing to shake hands (even it it's for a good reason) makes all parties uncomfortable and starts the conversation off on the wrong foot, which is what happened in this case. We didn't quite know how to act, as hugging the legislator was not an option, nor was patting him on the shoulder. He clearly felt awkward, too, and kept on apologizing about his wet hands. We kept on thinking that he could have prevented this entire situation by simply drying his hands well before leaving the bathroom. This not-shaking-hands scenario has also happened to one of our lovely colleagues, who wanted to shake a professor's hand at an industry event, but the professor did not shake hands, alleging that she was sick and did not want to spread the germs. That's a good point, but it's probably best to stay home if you are truly sick.
How would you have handled this situation, dear colleagues? It might seem pretty minor, and it is, but it's one of those awkward moments that can be tough to handle professionally. We did not end up having the lengthy conversation with the legislator that we had planned on having, as it just felt all wrong -- amazing what a non-handshake can do. We'd love to hear your thoughts!