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Business Etiquette: Handshake or Kiss?

Etiquette is important but sometimes more an art than a science. Consider my close encounter today with a gentleman whom I respect and like as a perfect example of trying to figure out what to do, without offending anyone or seeming "uncool."

Here's what happened.

In between meetings, I stopped by a local cafe to pick up a sandwich. To my delight, I spied said gent having lunch with colleagues, deep in conversation. When he saw me, he signaled to his colleagues that he was taking a break, came over to say hello and gave me a kiss on my cheek. If memory serves, I think my face grazed his, I passed him a business card (reflecting new contact information), offered a 60 second update on our business and held out my hand for an exit that may have been, iin hindsight, anything but graceful.

Paying for my take-out order, I wondered if his buss, followed by my handshake, was an insult. Keep in mind however that this is suburban CT, not Paris. Should we have pecked cheeks again as a more appropriate sendoff, simply said goodbye or nixed the face action to begin with?

It's all so complicated. I'm sure Jerry Seinfeld could get a lot of chuckles with this topic. Apparently, he had an episode about the "Kiss Hello" though I did not see it.

According to New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson, "the cheek, or social, kiss is displacing the handshake, once the customary greeting in American social and business circles" but just make sure you get the positioning right. See "Better Not Miss the Buss" (April 6, 2006).

In "Kiss, Cheek or Shake Hands?" (April 12, 2006), Today Show anchor Al Roker and now prime time news gal Katie Couric acknowledge that a kiss is okay when you know the colleague well but head for the right cheek. Leaning left is outre. Their guest Peggy Post suggests a firm grasp of the hands but no pumping, adding that an air kiss or double peck might be worth a try.

I'm not sure I will remember all of these greeting "do's and don'ts." It was a special surprise to bump into this smart, funny and high integrity colleague, even if I didn't get the hello and goodbye parts down right.

Linking this topic back to investment matters, is there a protocol for the buy side - service provider reviews that take place every quarter? For example, if an asset manager has lost money for an institutional investor, does that nip any chance of a hug or smooch, no matter how long the relationship? Are puckers prohibited for service contracts above a certain amount or when a discussion is unduly serious?

Let's see if Miss Manners can help.

Disclosure: no positions