2020 Protocols

By Ennio Vita-Finzi

Old Ways

Everyone, including business executives, is being warned that handshakes are no longer allowed. So how can a Texan tycoon commit himself to a business deal with an awkward elbow bump when his firm handshake was all he ever needed to introduce himself? or clinch a deal?

In Brazil, where a close hug and a pat on the back has always been the way to confirm a relationship, executives just don’t know what to do any more. In France and in Belgium where every social greeting consisted of at least one or more kisses on the cheek, greeting friends has now created a few seconds of discomfort before starting a conversation. In many Arab countries, where men normally kiss each other’s cheek and hold hands, these gestures are now being replaced by a distant nod.

Dating back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece, the handshake was a sign of peace and friendship and over time many different forms of handshake etiquette developed around the world: for example, medieval Knights used the handshake to loosen any weapons their opponents might be carrying.

In our current business world a firm handshake always transmitted confidence and trust. This has always been important in order to advance sales opportunities, gain employment, attract competent employees and obtain business partners. But our current pandemic challenge has virtually cancelled out any such beliefs, leaving us without any secure way to sell ourselves or evaluate others quickly.

A New Way?

A large part of fighting coronavirus is about what we rely on to communicate. Interestingly, the science of Neurolinguistics (NLP) tells us that there are other reliable ways to introduce ourselves to others and to assess and evaluate individuals. The following methods could well replace the handshake, kiss on the cheek or a hug.

Neurolinguists claim that there are three different ways of processing information: Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic. In developed countries, studies show that most people use a combination of visual and auditory methods – 60% of people process information in a visual way, 20% in an auditory way, and 20% kinesthetically.

An individual that thinks visually processes information instantly; prefers descriptive language, judges situations and people on the body language they observe and evaluate situations on the concept of “seeing is believing”. Clothing and accessories, use of cosmetics, obvious personal care and other visible cues are the standards these individuals rely upon. They are people who form immediate first impressions and in sales situations literally need to have something to hold or look at in order to make a decision.

Auditory people rely on what they hear to evaluate information and it has been shown that these individuals rely heavily on words and sounds to base their evaluations. Tone of voice, speech patterns, verbal speed and other auditory clues are the standards they rely on.

Kinesthetic people are much slower to process information and respond more to touch and a physical connection. Because of our current social distancing rules, people who rely on visual and auditory clues to assess a situation will be more successful.


American psychiatrists and behavioral researchers claim that neurotransmitters in the gut respond to environmental stimuli and visual cues. Various studies claim that women are more empathic and generally better at subconsciously and intuitively reading facial expressions and body language. Similarly, researchers theorize that men’s “gut instinct,” which sends signals to the brain, is also largely based on visual clues.

Hurry Up and Wait

Over the last couple of generations, western society has embraced the concept of doing everything quickly. We need immediate electronic access to data, we like to abbreviate words in order to reply to texts right away, we participate in speed-dating to meet someone new, we automatically believe what we see in social media, we prefer microwaves to time-consuming ovens, etc.

Meanwhile, instead of quickly lunging forward with an outstretched hand and leaning into body hugs, Texan tycoons and Brazilian executives are now remembering advice from their youth. Before crossing a busy intersection they had always been told to STOP, LOOK and LISTEN.

In today’s world, when establishing or evaluating a relationship, this sounds like good advice.