Business etiquette at networking events: handshake or kiss?

In my last blog post I commented on business networking and how I believe that the focus at these events should be on making friends and not on selling or actively seeking work.

In this blog post I would like to take the friends theme a little further and talk about kissing. In which I mean a kiss on the cheek as a form of greeting at a networking event.

I wouldn’t call myself a prudish person but I have always struggled with greeting friends and acquaintances (even family) with a kiss on the cheek. I think it stems from uncertainty about when is appropriate and the ultimate embarrassment you experience when you get it wrong.

When I was on a French exchange trip in sixth form college the parents of my friend’s exchange student would greet me with a raised hand and a “hi” instead of the three or four kisses on the cheek which normally accompanied a greeting. They sensed my awkwardness and it became a bit of a running joke.

I have been actively networking in and around Exeter for six months now so naturally have started to make friends and will usually see at least a few people I know at each networking event I attend. Recently I have found that people I have got to know have begun to greet me with a kiss on each cheek instead of the more formal handshake. Now this is fine, I am happy with this form of greeting but now I am faced with a dilemma. When to kiss and when not to?

To clear the matter up and save potential future embarrassment I thought I would do some research. I asked a friend (someone I met through networking), “At what point do you start kissing someone (ie the airbrush cheek thing) when you greet them at a networking event. When does it move from a hand shake?” to which he replied: “I’ve no idea! To analyse that, I suggest a book on social protocols!”

Not having any books on social protocols at hand I turned to the internet for some online research to try and find out what the correct UK business etiquette is when it comes to kissing. It seems I’m not the only one confused. Guidelines on “business kissing” are very vague with some even suggesting that the form in business is not to kiss! There does not appear to be a definitive answer to my question but there are some general guidelines:

  • Head for the right cheek first, not the left.
  • Most countries and cultures that do kiss, kiss twice.
  • In a business kiss your cheek should gently brush their cheek with a soft kiss.
  • Sound effects, air kissing and saliva traces are to be avoided at all cost!
  • If you’d prefer to shake hands, be sure to hold yours out before any kissing manoeuvres begin. Make sure you have a smile on your face and a pleasant tone in your voice so that your handshake is interpreted as nothing but warm and friendly.

When all is said and done I think the answer is just to do what feels appropriate at the time. There will be occasions where you will get it wrong but there are no hard-set rules and a one size fits all approach does not work.

It’s essentially the same approach as you would adopt to marketing!

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Comments (1)

[…] Yesterday I was interviewed live on BBC Radio Tees as part of a piece on “fist bumping”. The request to interview came as a result of a blog post that I wrote over two years ago on my business etiquette dilemma “Handshake or kiss?”. […]

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