Same Behaviors… But New Emotions

View All Posts
Our Thoughts
  • by Ryan Helzerman

I shook hands with someone.

Picture it: The Flatiron Building in downtown Cincinnati.  I’m reporting for my first day at work at SEEK & Directions, and I decided to come into the physical office to get my badge, laptop, etc.  It also happens to be many folks’ first day back in the office in more than a year.

I’m physically in an office again for the first time since March 13, 2020.

I’m wearing business casual attire for the first time since March 13, 2020.

Dave Sander, our production and design genius, was the first person I encountered in the office.  When we met, we both said hello, introduced ourselves, and… it happened:

We both stuck out our right hands.

It was an auto-pilot move.  Like thousands of professional introductions over the past 20 years.

We. Shook. Hands.

It was a pleasant handshake.  Warm, firm, the pump, squeeze, and hold.  Not too short, not too long.  A template example of the business handshake.

But less than one second into the shake, something came over me.  A feeling of confusion?  Dread?  Everything went into slow motion.

I was shaking another person’s hand after more than one year of physical distancing.

Dozens of thoughts raced through my head.

  • First: Health.  At the time, I hadn’t been vaccinated yet.  “After avoiding COVID for a full year, did I just blow it?  Had Dave been vaccinated?  Where was the sanitizer?”
  • Second: Dave’s perception of the situation.  “Was he feeling what I was feeling?  Do I say something to diffuse the tension?  Do I just end the handshake as if nothing felt out of the ordinary?”
  • Third: perception around the office.  “Did I just mark myself as someone who doesn’t respect COVID-appropriate protocol?  Would I be branded as a super-spreader risk?”
  • Finally: Self-criticism.  “What’s the matter with you?  This is just a handshake.  Roll with it!”

According to Trend Hunter, “Skin Hunger” is one of the megatrends that will be shaping consumer behavior for the next 3-5 years. The absence of physical touch has been difficult on us as a species.  Over the course of the pandemic, we have learned to not touch in the context of social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and life via zoom.  It hasn’t been easy, but we adapted.

That’s all changing… again.  The world is re-opening.  Mask requirements are being dropped.  Starting in June, life will start to approximate normalcy in many ways.

Empathetic marketers: pay attention.  

As consumers re-enter the world they remember, old habits will naturally re-emerge.  Some of these will be consumption-related, and will be supportive of our business objectives.  Some will not.

The cues for our old habits will prompt behavior that felt natural before the pandemic.  But in today’s context, there will be cognitive dissonance to overcome.  Routines won’t feel routine for a while yet.

The solve: give your consumers some grace.  As the world starts to emerge from the COVID pandemic, it’s important to acknowledge that doing the things we used to do will feel strange.  

Same behaviors… but new emotions.  We may find ourselves in familiar environments again, and restart old routines.  However, the emotions we feel will take some time to readjust.  And this is ok.

My handshake with Dave came and went without incident.  And I’ve shaken more hands since then.  Each one still prompted the same set of feelings, but I’ve learned to give myself some grace and let the emotions come and go.

Next time you’re in Cincinnati, come on over to the Flatiron Building.  We’d love to shake your hand.