Social Skills and
Diversity in the Workplace

As diversity in the workplace is rapidly increasing, many employees are sometimes unaware of what is expected, allowed, or unacceptable in today’s Western business environment. However, good social skills are essential to success.

This article complements Types of Handshakes and How to Make Yourself Irresistible, two articles I wrote a few weeks ago. While the previous articles are universal in their reach, this one focuses on special situation dealing with diversity in the workplace, mostly related to visual contact and handshakes.

Eye Contact

Direct eye contact is expected in the Western world, but it can be more difficult in various Asian cultures where girls have been taught to look down. Some religions – such as Islam and Judaism – also have specific rules as to who is able to have direct contact with whom, especially when women are involved. While I respect all religions and diversity in the workplace, I still believe that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Therefore, if you are working in a Western business environment where usual Western business rules apply, you are expected to have direct eye contact when you speak to your colleagues, superiors or subordinates. If you don’t, you may appear to hide something or to avoid someone, and this may impact your chances of success at work, as well as in any social setting.

Nevertheless, if you are dealing with someone with the same cultural background as yours, it will probably be appropriate to apply your own customs.



Until the beginning of the 20th century, handshakes were reserved to men. However, as more and more women joined the workforce, they started to be expected to shake hands too. Today, any woman in a business environment is supposed to shake hands with men and with other women. Contrary to popular belief, women are not weakling! You can shake a woman’s hand firmly, as long as you hold the palm – not the fingers – and you don’t crush the hand.

Arthritis and Other Hand Weaknesses

If you notice that a person has arthritis or that the hand is looking frail – or if the owner of such hand tells your so – be gentle with this hand.

Which Hand?

Always shake the right hand but if, for some reason, they offer their left hand to shake – maybe because they don’t have a right hand, their arm is in a cast, their right hand is dirty, etc. – then use your left hand too. In the South of France, I have sometimes seen people present their wrist or elbow to shake when their right hand was messy.

Just keep an open mind and you won’t have any problem with diversity in the workplace!

Sweaty Palms

People suffering from Palmar Hyperhidrosis have very sweaty palms and this condition is not related to a temporary emotional state. Feeling very self-conscious about this, they often give a “dead fish” handshake, hoping that the sweaty palm will go unnoticed, which is of course an illusion. You will give a better impression of yourself with a good, strong… but wet handshake than with a dead fish one. You may want to mention your condition before the handshake. It is also a good idea to always carry a Kleenex with you to wipe your hands just before you extend it to someone else.


If you are worried about germs, be aware that we are constantly surrounded by germs anywhere – money, door knobs, grocery carts, restaurant menus, gym equipment, water taps, railings – not only when we touch people’s hands. So don’t avoid a handshake based on your fear of germs.

Remember that a handshake is a subconscious message that you send to someone else and the absence of handshake – when it would be expected – also sends a strong negative message that you don’t what to connect.

It is better to wash your hands or to carry an alcohol-based hand cleaner to use afterwards, than to refrain from giving a handshake. After a handshake, avoid touching your face or any part of your body until you have washed your hands.

Hopefully, those few suggestions will help you to promote diversity in the workplace with good social skills. Always be vigilant and aware that whatever you do – don’t do – in a social setting send a strong subconscious message about what you are about.

Diversity in the workplace

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