It may have taken a few decades to catch on, but the cheek kiss greeting is now just as ingrained in Australian culture as vegemite, thongs and footy. It’s how we say hello to friends and show our family we love them.
Lately, however, we’ve seen the gesture carrying over from social situations into professional environments, muddying the waters of professional etiquette.
Just like we explained in our recent post on handshaking, projecting confidence and being the “frame setter” – the person who takes the lead and is in control – is extremely persuasive. Doing so requires being in tune with the person you are meeting, reading their body language, being aware of their culture and aligning to theirs in a customary and respectful way.
Broadly speaking, we believe that kissing on the cheek is almost always more appropriate in social situations than professional ones. However, there are some very specific situations in the business world when cheek kissing can work to build rapport, much like the handshake. If done well, it can be another powerful form of greeting that breaks the ice and creates an impression that has influence.
Here are some key elements to consider before initiating a cheek kiss:
The cheek kiss conveys a more personable professional relationship and becomes appropriate once a solid rapport has been established. For women, if a mutual agreement is sensed, a cheek kiss is a warm greeting that is accepted. For men, the business relationship between them and women needs to be well advanced (if kissing happens at all) and between men, well it’s not a question of appropriateness – it just doesn’t seem to happen.
When the business setting is more informal, such as a social function or business lunch, the cheek kiss as a greeting tends to be more suitable. However, when meeting someone for the first time and you are seeking a professional engagement, it would be considered unsuitable.
The Presence of Others
Perhaps you are on kissing terms with an associate, but find yourself in a business setting, like a networking event, with others around. In that case, it’s best to refrain from cheek kissing until you are in a one-on-one situation.
The cheek kiss greeting is common in industries such as fashion and the arts, which tend to be more artistic, creative and non-conforming. In some professions, such as consulting, where it is your personality that is the key selling point, it can be considered a sign of approachability. In other industries, like mining or banking, it’s less common and therefore less acceptable.
When meeting a foreigner, avoid the cheek kiss unless it is customary in their culture to greet in this way. For example, with Italians, a kiss on both cheeks at a first meeting is a customary greeting and therefore considered suitable and even welcoming. In comparison, a Japanese person might find it confronting as this isn’t the norm in their country or culture.
The same protocol above applies to emails. The convention of ending emails with a kiss, represented by the letter “x”, should only be used in private emails between people in very close relationships. However, we would discourage the practice – especially between different sexes – as in the worst case it could be misunderstood as romantic and in the best case simply unprofessional.
If in doubt, don’t cheek kiss as it may cause awkwardness or embarrassment. If you’re particularly uncomfortable with cheek kissing, it’s important to discourage the gesture in a way that doesn’t offend the other person. Being the first to initiate a handshake – a more widely accepted gesture – signals how you would like to be greeted. However, it’s important to show friendliness and project some charisma by maintaining eye contact and even smiling with your eyes.
So you’ve decided that it would be appropriate to cheek kiss – so what’s the proper way to do it? As with the handshake, we’d encourage you to stand a half a metre or so from the other person. Lightly touch each other’s right cheeks or give a light, dry peck on the other person’s cheek. You could put one hand on the person’s shoulder so long as both parties will feel comfortable with this.
To create the right impression, naturally, good grooming is paramount in this situation. Your face should be clean and dry. Perfume or cologne have never been more important than for times like this in order to maintain a positive experience for the other person you are engaging with. Dental and body hygiene is also critical as you are entering someone’s personal space.
Done well, cheek kissing is just another way to become the frame setter and set yourself apart. As they say, “those who set the frame, rule the game”.