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The Etiquette of Social Distancing around COVID-19


At PMI, we believe in professionalism. Professionalism encompasses a number of different attributes, one of which is proper professional and social etiquette. In a time of great concern for public health and limiting the spread of the COVID-19, I’d like to share a refresher from the Emily Post Institute on the etiquette of social distancing.


Greetings and interactions are the most likely to feel and look different right now. How do you convey that you are happy to see someone, that they are welcome, that you are friendly? Use your words, eye contact when possible, tone, facial expressions and body language to express yourself. (There are a lot of other ways to get the message across well!)

Few people are arguing it’s a bad idea, but so many are making the habitual mistake of reaching out a hand. It’s okay to refuse an outstretched hand, or step back from an approaching hug. Saying, “I’m keeping distance right now, but I’m happy to see you.” (or whatever is appropriate given the circumstances) is perfectly appropriate at this time.


During a time of high alert, we are often more willing to comment on a stranger’s behavior. Something we’re less likely to do when the threat is weaker. A reminder from a neighbor in a line to cover your mouth is often met with gratitude instead of glare.

This is a good reminder to harness such an attitude of gratitude when reminders come our way. It may feel like alarmists are everywhere, but you don’t know what another person’s reason for being more cautious. You don’t know who lives with an elderly person, works in a retirement home, or lives with a child who has an autoimmune issue. so it’s best to lean toward gratitude rather than grievance and safety rather than risk.


Traditional etiquette has a great deal to offer at times like these. Some of the oldest, most fundamental etiquette advice has kept us safe and healthy for generations and can serve as a foundation for good public and personal health today. First and foremost is the practice of good hygiene.

Washing up before meals and after exposure to groups of people or public spaces. Use hot soapy water and scrub for 20 seconds (about 2 rounds of ‘Happy Birthday’).

In public, don’t rub your eyes, clean your ears, wipe your nose or touch your mouth. Remember the old adage “nothing good can happen in polite company with your hands above your shoulders, unless you are bringing food to your mouth.”


You don’t know what or who could affect someone’s life making the current threat even worse. It’s important to respect people where they are at, and not blow off their concerns or drive fear where it doesn’t need to be. “I’m hearing your concerns, while I don’t share them, I’m happy to respect your wishes.” Or “Right now it’s best for me if I don’t talk about it, but just follow the proper guidelines and listen for changes.”

The only way to affect change is with practice and repetition. Forming new habits takes time and we will be reminding ourselves and others along the way.

As always, we encourage you to write in with your comments, feedback and suggestions. You can reach us at pmiaustin@pmiaustin.org.

PM Best! 

Yuejiao Liu, PE, PMP 

President, PMI Austin Chapter 


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