How to Respectfully Refuse Unwanted Handshakes Without Alienating Your Colleagues

As the nation slowly begins to re-open, as offices start to come back to life, and as conferences begin to buzz anew, you might be wondering, “How can I practice safe social distancing without hurting anyone’s feelings?” Chiefly, how can you avoid shaking someone’s grubby hand without alienating them?

Fortunately, we at IRD Glass have come up with a few creative moves to avoid the dreaded handshake (for the time being).

The Parry

Extend your hand with a short, friendly wave and a sheepish grin. Most people understand the message immediately and wave back.

The Bow

Another option was to bring my hands together in the yoga prayer pose and offer a small bow. In Oriental culture, a slight bow is a gesture of respect. When I offer a small bow, most people bow back.

Be Direct

Simply explain your health concern and honor your own healthcare protocols. If it helps, everyone else probably feels just as awkward and uncomfortable.

 Pocket It

You can also keep your hand safely in your pocket while saying, “Well, I guess we’re not supposed to be shaking hands right now.” The message is that your reluctance to shake is not personal. Rather, it’s simply an acknowledgment of the current situation.

Heart to Heart

Instead of shaking hands, Emirati women (the native population of the United Arab Emirates) place their right hands on their hearts as if pledging allegiance. Accompanied by a tiny bow, this gesture conveys a respectful greeting.


Humor is a time-tested way to diffuse awkward situations. Being able to laugh at ourselves and our obsession with hand sanitizer can reduce feelings of fear and make us feel better about why we’re using all that hand sanitizer to begin with.

Above all, remember that everyone has different beliefs and concerns – and that’s ok. If you believe that shaking hands is safe, that’s up to you. If your colleague believes that shaking hands could endanger his or her health, he or she deserves to have their wishes respected without being pressured, prodded or shamed.

By respecting the rights of others without taking offense, we can get through this COVID-19 crisis together. Instead of being afraid of what other people think, we can just do the right thing ourselves.

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 IRD Glass does things that virtually no one else has with glass and ceramics. We create precision custom laser optics, homogenizers, glass components, sapphire components, and more using a unique cell-based approach where small, dedicated teams work on individual client projects.

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