You may feel that this month’s discussion of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has little to do with the business world. Yet we all know that we bring our personalities with us to the workplace, including our best and worst attributes.
It shouldn’t be a huge surprise to any of us to know that success in business does not necessarily require perfect mental health. Recall for a moment all the “Crazy Boss Sale” advertising you have seen over the years. Sometimes that “craziness” is due to OCD. We have already profiled Howie Mandel, a successful comedian, actor and businessman and there is one more example I have uncovered…..Donald Trump!
Now, Donald Trump does not admit to having full-blown OCD but he certainly has some views that are consistent with the OCD spectrum. Take for example this quote from his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback that I reviewed last year:
“I am a clean-hands freak. . . [T]here is no way, after shaking someone’s hand, that I would eat bread. . . . [I]f any of you folks reading this book really like me, please approach me a any time, in a restaurant or elsewhere, and don’t stick out your hand but simply bow. I will bow back and greatly appreciate the thought.”
–Donald Trump, The Art of the Comeback
Donald Trump’s clean hands compulsion made me reflect for a moment on the importance of shaking hands in the business world. Traditionally, shaking hands was the way to formally present yourself to a new colleague or business associate and begin the trust-building process.
In MBA school, our class received lessons from a career coach about the importance of a good handshake to signal your competence. For women in particular, it was emphasized that you should never offer just a few fingers like a dainty Victorian maid, but rather present your whole hand and give a firm handshake. In the business world, you always shake hands with an interview candidate, an existing or potential business partner and any new acquaintance within your own company.
But the rules change every now and again. Most recently, the fist bump or knuckle knock is making its way into the workplace. What is the fist bump? If you don’t know, here is a brief, humorous video to explain:
While fist bumping entered the mainstream when Barack and Michele Obama demonstrated it at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, Howie Mandel was using it long before on the Deal or No Deal gameshow and it probably was around before that in professional sports, the African American community and other settings.
But does anyone really fist bump at the office? I never have had occasion to use it in my professional career. The greeting situation I am more often confronted with is reading whether someone wants to shake my hand, hug me or kiss me on the cheek (once or twice)! While a simple handshake is by far the most common, with so many different cultures represented here in the Washington area, a hug and kiss in the Washington business setting is a relatively frequent occurrence.
I asked my husband if he ever fist bumps at the office. He works in a male-dominated field. “Yes,” he said. I was surprised. “When do you use a fist bump?” He explained that it comes up occasionally around colleagues at the office—particularly if they are celebrating a big win. He indicated that he has never used a fist bump with any clients or at serious business meetings, though and it would seem inappropriate to do so.
Might we see more fist bumping in the future? Some signs point to yes. A recent survey from the Purell hand sanitizer company indicated that 41% of Americans have hesitated to shake hands with someone because of a fear of germs. The survey also found that people on the East Coast of the United States were more germophobic with about 50% of people fearing germs through handshakes compared to 35% of West Coast residents. Women and younger people in the survey expressed a greater fear of germs that other populations. The survey also claimed that “roughly half of Americans (49 percent) have chosen the fist bump over a classic handshake.”
It is hard for me to wrap my head around the concept of a fist bump. As a person with relatively small hands and bony knuckles, the thought of crashing my knuckles into someone else’s isn’t exactly pleasant, particularly if the other person hits hard. Offering a wimpy fist bump looks a little pathetic. You would also miss out on some of the information you can gain from a person’s handshake. Are their hands warm or cold? Sweaty or dry? Soft or rough? Do they give a firm or a soft handshake. You get quite a few subtle clues to the person’s personality. With a fist bump, all that information is gone.
Yet, every businessperson today probably needs to know how to fist bump in case it is ever needed. For example, here is the Dalai Lama getting a little fist bump instruction from the Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee in 2009.
Do you fist bump in your office or social setting? Please share in the comments.