Thursday, May 3, 2007

Awkward Moments

It should come as no surprise that I review, and re-review, all client interactions. "How could I have said that better?"; "How could I have handled that negotiation, and counter-response better?"; or "How could I have been more succinct in my thoughts?" The stammer, the "uhh", and the otherwise non-thinking verbalizations means my mouth wasn't working in perfect sync with my head, and I am always trying to improve on that. (That's French president Charles de Gaulle about to kiss/greet Argentinian president Arturo Illia in 1964.)

An article by the Post-Gazette - "Thorny etiquette problem", suggests:

Thirty years ago, a man greeting his boss's wife with a peck on the cheek would have been escorted to his termination interview for this unthinkable gaffe. Now, it's standard.
Yet, how standard? Wikipedia has an entry about cheek kissing, but setting aside men greeting men, because, 99 times out of 100 it's a nice handshake, and for the rare hug, you know when that's gonna happen. But what about men greeting women, or women greeting men? Long-standing relationships often engender a warm and friendly hug, but the decision to continue your body's movement towards someone and pass the point at which a handshake is natural is, literally, a split-second decision. Yesterday, I made the wrong choice. I was greeted by a long-standing friend who clearly was expecting an embrace, as her arms were held open, and it was natural and appropriate for me to hug and give a peck on the cheek to this person, who is a client. This client, was with her client, whom also knows me, and after my first hug, I made the move from handshake to cheek-peck, and I knew milliseconds before I had arrived at her cheek that I should have stuck with the handshake, yet, it was too late.


I kicked myself for the rest of the evening. That feeling is like the feeling I remember from years ago when I would lean in for my first kiss with a young lady I would be courting, only to be rebuffed. It's a cringing feeling you always remember.

New York Magazine has an interesting article The Urban Etiquette Handbook, positing the following:
What’s the best way to avoid awkward crossed-signals handshake-meets-cheek-kiss encounters?

Remember: You can usually get away with unwarranted familiarity if your intended recipient sees it coming. Strike early:
  • • If you or the person you’re greeting is a woman, start telegraphing your intentions before you make eye contact, either extending your hand or opening your arms according to whim. (Under no circumstances should you give a woman a fist pound.)
  • • If it’s a masculine pairing, make eye contact and form your hand into the appropriate shake/fist pound/gangster-style-clasp shape before raising your arm. (And never give an elaborate handshake to the uninitiated.)
They also have other interesting tips there, so check it out.

Next time, I'll try to telegraph better.
Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...

If you meet someone who is Native-American - the handshake is softer-respectful, not overpowering like a traditional handshake.


HAHA yes, I photograph lots of rappers. Me being white and from the suburbs, it's always a little akward when I go for a standard handshake and they go for the gangster-style-clasp-hug-pound thing.

Anonymous said...

i was always taught that the height of diplomacy, among other things, is to be able to put people at ease. if you make the wrong choice as to whether to kiss or not to kiss, it is bad form for the recipient to make it clear to you that you made the wrong call, as clearly happened in this instance.

so i wouldn't kick yourself john.

Unknown said...


I like to ascribe to the idea that "nothing I do is wrong" when it comes to a greeting (and most other things). Sure, you have to respect the other person, but at the same time, why change how you do things just for them? if you are a cheek kisser, kiss that cheek! If the kissee is offended, well....that is a very silly thing to be offended by.

I have hugged handshakers, lip kissed cheek kissers and handshaked air kissers in my all works out just fine. Sometimes the incredibly obvious "we totally missed each other there" is a great way to further break the ice of a new meeting, as I am sure the above referenced "white guy meets rapper" scenario would play out.

Whatever you do, do it with confidence. Just like high school dating, they can smell fear and hesitation on your part. Go into every intial meeting full on sure that you are doing the right thing, and heck, I bet it will be.

I have a lengthy comment today because, curse you JHP, I was going to post to my blog today about the same subject! I've been scooped!

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in a book I have coming out, a literary philosophical meditation on awkwardness, that features some thoughts about the forms that tact and diplomacy take, entitled _Awkward: A Detour_. I'm glad other folks note how cultural differences play a part in these encounters, but I'm also struck by the heteronormative assumptions of this piece. How do these encounters gain yet another layer when queer identity enters in, and its associated phobias?

Anonymous said...

The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

Dorothy Nevill

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