How Can We Rethink Business Card Rituals and Still Connect with Each Other?

When did you last exchange a business card with someone? I’m sure it was either in March 2020 or earlier. Over the past (almost) two years, we’ve proven we don’t need paper business cards. Yet, some people still print them. I wonder how many of these pre-pandemic rituals we will retain and how many we will toss over the next few months and years.

Back in the before times, business cards offered plenty of value. When we exchanged cards, we could see:

  • How people approach offering cards. When I traveled to Japan and Korea, I learned to offer a business card as a small gift. (The card was separate from the real gifts.)
  • Who had what information on their card. Aside from our email address (since the 90s), we all had variations: our picture, a cell, desk and central phone numbers.
  • How the receiver might organize their received cards.

For example, I stopped using my address on my card back in 2014, because we moved. More importantly, my physical address did not matter. Only my online addresses mattered. I used my LinkedIn, Twitter, site URL, and email on my card.

I suspect our online information is even more important today.

Because I’m a consultant, I used to note when and where I met the person on the back of the card. I added that information to my contact manager, so I had the context for our initial meeting. However, I rarely note that information now, because I’m not getting or giving cards. When I connect with people on LinkedIn, I see the date we connected, but not the context.

I use the contact information—not the ritual. That got me thinking. What other rituals will we change?

Rituals Offer Benefits—Except When They Don’t

Business cards started as a ritual. The card announced your presence, either in society or as a tradesperson. The card was a small advertisement. The card offered you a warm connection with the other person.

People like me also used the cards to track when and how I met people. (I transferred that information to my contact database.)

When we don’t meet in person, we don’t have these benefits.

We also have the ritual of shaking hands when we meet and leave people, especially in business settings. Now, if we’re in person, we fist or elbow bump. (I admit, I judge people by the firmness of their handshake.)

Some of us used to hug people, even in business situations, such as conferences. Many of my colleagues are friends, and I hug them. Except, not now.

How can we substitute these various greeting and leaving rituals, such as business cards and handshakes?

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • Acknowledge that I want to change the ritual. “I’m not comfortable shaking hands right now.”
  • Offer alternatives: “Let’s plan on an elbow bump.” “I’d love to shake your hand, but let’s elbow bump instead.”
  • Also, ask for the contact connection. “Since I’m not seeing you in person, let’s connect on LinkedIn.”

I wish I had better alternatives. We need to acknowledge we have rituals for greeting, connecting, and leaving. And, we need to acknowledge we won’t “return” to most of those old rituals for a while.

Instead of keeping the rituals, let’s consider what the ritual means and how to use the meaning instead of the original action.

That’s the question this week: How can we rethink business card rituals and still connect with each other?

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