The Handshake

A Symbol of My Principles

Recently it came to my attention that people may no longer want to shake hands as a way of greeting new people. I didn’t realize how important beginning new business relationships with the perfect handshake was until I thought about this trend. At first, I blew off the decline of the handshake as no big deal; I mean, of course it makes sense. Who really wants some random person’s germs going directly onto the hand you know you are going to touch your face with, about ten seconds after you think about how you don’t touch your face as much as everyone else touches their face? But then I couldn’t stop thinking about handshakes. The handshake means a lot to me. Some pivotal moments in my life, moments that have made me who I am as a person, and a leader, are directly related to the simple handshake.

When I was 12 years old my dad lived in an upside-down house on a hill. He had the kind of house where the front door is on the second story and the bedrooms are downstairs. I vividly remember being in his bottom-floor bedroom one morning when he gave me lessons on how to do two very important things; tie a tie and give a handshake.

The tie took longer because I had to learn the double Windsor. He had high expectations for me. Clearly I wasn’t going to be the kind of professional that would wear a crooked tie. Wait… as a female I would NEVER need to wear a tie, but the point was still made and well taken. (I have used this skill many times over to prevent colleagues from looking like total slobs in company pictures but that is not the point of this blog.) The second lesson, the handshake, was the more important lesson.

THIS IS A SCIENCE

  • Firm grip, once up, once down.
  • Do not squeeze too hard.
  • Too soft is a cardinal sin.
  • Make sure to connect all the way to the base of the thumb.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Don’t pull in.
  • Elbow bent at slightly greater than 90 degrees.
  • On first meeting, get their full name.
  • On second meeting, ask about their kids, if they have any.
  • No business questions during the handshake.
  • Leave the left hand at your side.

YOU SHOULD PRACTICE

My dad is a man of principle. That day when I was 12, I was learning one of his fundamental beliefs about treating all of his children equally. His daughters, his sons, his eldest, his youngest, his biological children and his stepchildren are all treated as equals. To this day, this is true. Later in my life, I became close with another person who I also learned was dedicated to treating people equally when there was drama over a handshake.

I was now in my 30’s, and I was being introduced to a large group of people because I was the new Project Manager for a large software suite. I needed to get to know all of the people that ran the servers and hardware that would host our software. One of the primary server lab staff persons was a devout Muslim, and it was against his beliefs to have physical contact with women. In short, he could not shake my hand. He had emailed me ahead of time and informed me of the situation. I said I understood. Unfortunately, he did not tell my boss.

We went to the large meeting, 10-ish people, where I met the lab managers and staff. This guy shook hands with everyone, except me. My boss was furious! I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was a public shaming to the effect of “IF YOU CAN’T SHAKE HANDS WITH HER, YOU SHAKE HANDS WITH NO ONE!” He went on about how he: “would not have any of his staff singled out and treated differently. In this space, I was a Project Manager before I had any gender”, etc., etc. It was kind of brutal. After that meeting, I only ever spoke with the lab management. I never dealt with the staff that “treated me rudely.”

This boss is a man of principle. He has firm beliefs about the respect and equality that should be afforded to all people. He can’t defend everyone, but he can defend his staff. I’m really lucky to have these people in my life. I also defend my staff like a momma hen on a mission. When it comes to protecting my children, I’m like a wild bear with Satan on my side. I have very strong values about getting to know my staff and treating people well. Who would have thought, these principles were reinforced by something so simple as a handshake?


This post is dedicated to my dear friend Evelyn LaLonde. Thank you for taking me to the desert and reminding me of my strength; both physical and mental.


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