The Elbow Bump Goes to Work


Feb. 15, 2006 — -- Elbow bump. No, that isn't the latest type of punch from the National Hockey League or Ultimate Fighting. It's the way that the World Health Organization would like us to greet each other from now on.

Yep, the handshake is seen as too efficient a way to spread disease -- germs go from their nose, to their hands, to your hands to your nose and eyes -- yuck! So in business and social settings we'll soon all be asked to mimic the greeting that doctors and scientists use when they are working around such diseases as the Ebola virus -- to bump elbows when we want to greet another person. Welcome to the new world of bird flu.

Apparently, the air kiss did not suffice as a way to say howdy. Too bad. So from now on we'll all have to get used to throwing an elbow at our best pals at work.

By itself this would be a simple thing to adjust to. After all, in business we've adapted to computers, layoffs and CEO perp walks. We're nothing if not adaptable at work.

But if you combine this with the fact that we seldom talk to anyone anymore -- how often have you communicated with someone multiple times in a week and never heard the peron's voice? E-mail has gone from a cool way to dash off some thoughts to a colleague to the only way that many of us communicate with people both inside and outside our company. Talk about your killer app.

Training is increasingly done online. Meetings are done via the computer. Heck, most of us don't even leave our desk to eat lunch. Our computer is increasingly our window to the world. Don't get me wrong, I'm not for an endless coffee klatch or incessant watercooler chats. But I am concerned that actual human contact seems to increasingly be an endangered species. And we lose something when this happens.

So I want to propose a bold idea. After 10 e-mails, call the person you are communicating with. And after 20 e-mails, go talk to the person face to face. Even if it requires a four-floor elevator ride. Human contact still matters: people's body language, the tone of their voice, just picking up on their energy by being in their presence. There is value in being in the presence of another person.

Just don't forget to avoid someone's hand like the plague. Offer up an elbow and blame the birds and WHO.

"Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them." -- Adlai Stevenson

"Complete and Utter Failure," Neil Steinberg (Doubleday, 1994)

"Kimberly-Clark was a newsprint and wrapping paper company until World War I ended, leaving it with a huge reserve of Cellucotton, a wood-derived substance it created to replace cotton in medical dressings. Trying to get rid of the stuff, Kimberly-Clark developed two products -- thin sheets of Cellulocotton, which it dubbed Kleenex, and thin pads which it dubbed Kotex."

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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