Last week I met a colleague from my Ernst & Young days. A peer, a friend but someone I hadn't seen for around ten years. Delighted to see them, I was rather wrong-footed when they lurched forward with an embrace of salutation, which due to my clumsiness ended up as a minor scuffle and a less than elegant extrication!
Well, forgive me but we never would have done anything like that ten years ago!
It brought to mind one of my earliest journalistic forays, 'Business Kissing - to kiss or not to kiss, that is the question'. It was an edgy little piece for the times; it kick started my career as a writer and was picked up by the UK national press. Digging through the archives, I was shocked to realise that I had written this in 2007! But what was really startling was how true the comments are still today; for myself, at least, I still haven't 'got' the protocol on professional greetings. Have you? Let's see what you think?
Extracts from the 2007 archives: ''Have you noticed how suddenly everyone’s kissing. I’m not talking continental kissing, pecking one cheek, and then the other. I mean a bit of a hug then a kiss on the cheek or the side of the face at least. And it’s not just extended family and very close friends here. Though certainly they’re at it too. No, I mean kissing in a business context. Seems to me the rule is, if you have ever met the person before even just once, then you greet them with a kiss. Male-female kiss, yes. Female-male kiss, sure. Female–female absolutely. Male-male, actually I’m not sure. Maybe my readers can enlighten me.
Everyone’s doing it. Bank manager and customer. Boss and employee. Next door neighbours. Client and accountant. Any old colleague. They’re all welcoming each one another with a little muffle and a scuffle around the cheek and lip area. Granted, not a full smackaroony, I’m talking fuzzy, huggy, apologetic, crushing of cheeks, lips or anything else around the upper head region.
Where has this come from? It’s stolen upon us insidiously. What was once an occasional phenomenon 18 months ago when I was still with Ernst & Young is now rife throughout the world, business and otherwise.
What’s your take on this? Mine is a bit of awkwardness. If I don’t do it first then I get treated to muffled hug-like I’ve forgotten. Or when the other party is more inhibited, I find we are looking at each other with inadequately covered discomfort, knowing what we should do but not quite mustering up. And the uneasiness sits with you throughout the meeting, like a thinly veiled sensation of indigestion.
Back to 2014, I wonder what the protocol is in audit these days? If you are going back to a client you've been to before, do you have a particular physical greeting? In internal audit, do you treat your clients as you do your other colleagues, or do you distance yourself with a more traditional business-like welcome? My pavlovian response is to hold out a hand for a conservative shake, but that doesn't always hit the spot either. My husband informs me that there's no need for such proselytising about protocol in the engineering world; business kissing just doesn't happen there! He doesn't recognise a problem, retorting with 'I've experienced it once - and that person owes me money'. Interestingly though, his is a highly male-dominated world, so I am wondering again about the gender matrix; I'm guessing that the male to male greeting is still a handshake, but I may be wrong.
Auditors, you are a cosmopolitan bunch. We'd love to hear about protocols from within the profession and around the world. Let's get audit etiquette on the map. I, for one, don't want to be writing about my own scuffling in another 7 years time!
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