I "know someone" who has arthritis and because they are young most people never think of it when approaching them with a handshake. Sometimes a gentle squeeze is enough to bring tears. They are also private about their medical condition, but shouldn't be subject to pain or that awkward discomfort after declining a handshake from someone. Especially in a professional setting. Anyone have suggestions on how to do this in a less offensive manner?
I'm going through this myself and straight up say that I can't shake hands because it's sore. If asked I don't mind saying it's because it's a form of arthritis. There's more of us out there than you might think - I actually work with a couple of people in the same boat.
If he's not already done so, he should see a rheumatologist as there's some great medication out there.
This happened to me in college. I had an autoimmune thing going on while I was trying to get a job and was at job fairs constantly. It was an arthritic reaction that I was going though.
I wrapped my right hand in an ace wrap, and then carried a folder of resumes in my left. This deterred most people from shaking my hand because it was injured. If they asked about the nature of the damage, I explained it, but most didn't want to get into too much detail.
I'm sorry, I'd like to shake your hand but I'm dealing with a medical thing that makes it rather painful. But I'm very pleased to meet you.
That's your basic script. Explain why you can't shake hands with whatever words feel right to you, then add another short phrase to make it clear you're glad to see them. Other phrases you could use are:
- I'm sorry, handshakes can be painful for me
- It's nothing major but a handshake is very discomforting for me
- I have an issue with my hands that makes shaking hands difficult
You can do the same things when you've already met someone before, simply adding a "I'm not sure if I mentioned it when we met" and closing with a "nice to see you again".
If this is a departure from your previous behaviour where you would just grin and bear it, it can be good to alert any co-workers or people you run into again. Say something like:
I have a medical condition with my hands that's under control but which has made it sometimes painful to shake hands so I'm going to avoid doing so in future.
Decades ago, this came up in a Dear Abby or Ann Landers column. The advice given was to extend your hand palm up with the fingers slightly curled. The other person should then just give a finger squeeze. (Palm down, fingers curled and fingers squeeze fingers. I think this was considered "the old lady handshake." Polite people knew that this was a signal to be gentle. This knowledge may have died out, but I encounter people who still do this.
Maybe the modern version is fist bumping. I think there is enough pandemic awareness now that if someone extends their hand and you respond with a closed fist, then they think you're being germ-careful and will bump back. The thought that you have a cold will probably pass through their minds, but it won't stay there long.
I face a somewhat similar issue - while I don't have arthritis, I've had enough hand and wrist injuries to make this problematic.
I can't remember exactly where I saw this, but I remember reading somewhere that Bill Clinton had a method for preventing people from squeezing when he had to shake a lot of hands. You can try something similar.
I've tried a few different methods myself - e.g. 2-handed hand shaking. Sometimes, gripping slightly around the knuckles can prevent them from squeezing too hard, too. There are actually plenty of articles available demonstrating various other techniques for accomplishing this (or at least protecting your hand to some degree), such as this one. I'd encourage you to look up a few of them and find one that works for you.
The usual practice in places I have worked has been to offer the forearm or elbow to be shaken.
Now I have worked in chemistry and in engineering and it is common for hands to be covered in gloves which are frequently contaminated (and this probably applies in other industries where hands must not be touched, such as food preparation) but it does seem to be common enough where I work to be understood, even without any explanation (though the fact that the person offering the arm usually has their hands visibly in an unshakeable condition helps with understanding.) It is often (but by no means always) accompanied by a spoken apology for being unable to shake hands.
There is usually some brief touch of the offered part of the arm by the person with the free hand, so the physical gesture of hand to arm contact is completed without any need to de-glove.
If you work in an office environment, you could probably offer your arm like this (while apologising for being unable to shake hands as people in an office environment are perhaps less likely to understand the gesture.) It's up to you do decide if you want to explain, for example that your hands "hurt today" or enter into more detail about having arthritis.
There is no reason to be ashamed of a medical condition, but I do appreciate that you don't want to be referring to it all the time as I imagine it would be quite tedious for you.
I'm not entirely sure I understand why honesty is not the best policy here:
Sorry, I'd like to shake your hand, but I have an arthritic condition. I don't mean to be rude, but I can't shake your hand.
This should be good enough for pretty much anyone. Medical conditions can't be helped, and shouldn't be seen as rude by anyone reasonable. Trying to dodge or lie your way around the problem (e.g. "I am working through a (unnamed) medical condition", "I have a cold", "I prefer to fistbump") just comes off as lame. Just say it flat out: I have arthritis. I can't shake your hand. End of story.