The coward does it with a kiss, the brave man with a sword!
Quite a few "etiquette emergency" questions regarding kissing in business situations have found their way to me as of late. While the protocol around shaking hands is clear, the issue of business kissing is much harder to define. After all, kissing is hardly a gesture quickly associated with business; yet the professional pucker has entered the working world and therefore must be addressed. When meeting with clients, contact and co-workers, there are four C's that you should consider prior to puckering.
Country ~ Perhaps I have been watching too many foreign films, but I was under the impression that the business kiss was quite common in all countries other than the United States. However, my research shows that in most countries, the firm business handshake is still the most appropriate greeting for initial meetings and business introductions. Even in countries where kissing is the national pastime, the handshake is still the preferred business greeting.
Culture ~ The corporate culture of the field in which you work will influence whether a hand shake or kiss is more appropriate. If you work within a conservative field, such as banking or consulting, handshakes are the norm. However, if you work within a more forward field, such as fashion or entertainment, a kiss may be the way to go.
Connection ~ How well you know the other person, and whether or not you also have a social relationship, can dictate whether or not to kiss. If you have a social relationship, you may kiss as a greeting in social situations, but keep to a handshake in business situations to avoid confusing any colleagues who may be present.
Context ~ Where you are and what you are doing will also play into the appropriateness of the kiss. Is it a 9:00 a.m. staff meeting? Kissing is probably out. But if it is a 7:00 p.m. business cocktail party, kissing may be appropriate.
Where does this leave us? In a word, confused. Since the guidelines on business kissing are so vague and the factors so subjective, it is truly up to you to read the body language of the other person to judge whether you are about to receive a handshake or kiss. If the person extends their hand, shake it. If the person offers their cheek, kiss it. If you are unsure what they are going to do, extend your hand in an obvious way to give them the body language cue to shake. And good luck!
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ When kissing a business acquaintance, should it be one kiss or two? And which cheek do we start with?
A: Most countries and cultures that do kiss, kiss twice. (Although there are some three timers out there!) In general, you should turn your head to the left to offer the right cheek first. Whatever you do, do not offer one cheek and then change your mind to offer the other; you will end up with a kiss on the lips!
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I am not comfortable with all of the kissing going on in my working world. How can I seem professional and friendly while avoiding kissing?
A: The first bit of advice is to keep your distance while extending your hand. 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. Or, when you see other the person, you can throw open your arms indicating a big hug and thus avoiding the kissing.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ When kissing a business contact, should I actually be kissing my lips to their cheek or is an "air kiss" more appropriate?
A: Most business kissing consists of your check gently brushing their cheek while a soft kissing noise is made.