I learned from an extremely young age about the importance of a strong handshake.
Be confident, firm. Don’t crush the fingers, but my God, no floppy fish fingers. Know when to let go, just the right amount of time, not too quick but not too awkward. Make that first impression, this is your one chance.
Needless to say, I’ve successfully made that strong, positive first impression with every single handshake for the last thirty years. Nine times out of ten, I surprise an old white guy businessman too, much to my smug delight.
For a long time, I prided myself on my handshake. I was probably kinda borderline arrogant about it, actually. But too, if I’m honest, I can think of at least two jobs I got that absolutely stemmed from that handshake first impression. It always felt like an unexpected and powerful part of my identity. And like something that somehow set me apart, made a difference in how people thought of me, no matter how small a thing it was.
That may or may not be true – because people will remember the rest of you too, and a handshake may or may not hold any actual power – because it’s super subjective. But old habits die hard, and I’ve been thinking about The Handshake a lot lately. Mostly because it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever shake anyone’s hand ever again.
Yeah, I said ever.
And I mean it. Quite honestly, the thought of it makes my skin crawl. I don’t care if I’ve never met you or you’re a friend – right now? Hard no. I don’t know where your hand has been or what you believe, and I have no intention of finding out and landing myself in the hospital with COVID-19.
But, I said never again, even though I do believe in future medical advances (#science) that will keep us at least somewhat safer from COVID-19 and able to socialize at closer distances at some point in the next several years, maybe even touch people who live outside our household. So why no handshakes ever?
Well, they make my skin crawl for other reasons too, now that I’ve been thinking about it.
A couple weeks back, I attended a virtual networking event with a speaker on non-verbal communication. It’s a topic I’m already familiar with and conscious of, but I found this session interesting in a whole different light at this point in my life.
So, OK, if it’s not something you’re super checked into, non-verbal communication includes our body language, vocal tone, and ornaments (clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, etc.). And up to 92% of our communication is non-verbal! Every time we meet someone, we do a snap judgment of them – typically based at least in part on this non-verbal communication, and we’re correct in that first assumption 76% of the time.
No wonder so many folks put so much pressure on their appearance, y’know? For the same reason, many women struggle with things like upspeak, vocal fry, and being considered shrill – even if that happens to be a natural part of their voice or speech patterns. And, we worry about posture, what signals it sends to cross our arms (even if we’re fucking freezing in that stupid conference room set at comfortable temps for men), and, of course, a proper handshake.
As the speaker presented all this data on non-verbal information – like the fact that our hands are our trust indicators and that’s a big part of the reason why handshakes are so important, I couldn’t help but think about our current world, and our future. Essentially, she ignored the fact that both of those things are different than they once were, and changing rapidly. That didn’t set too well with me.
So, naturally, I asked about it. I said something like, so, since handshakes are pretty much going away, what do you recommend as a trust indicator in introductions? What should we do when we meet someone new? How do we approach this if we won’t be shaking hands?
Her geeeenius response was something like, well, *heh heh smirk face* handshakes won’t be going away, so there’s that.
At that point, she lost me, obviously. And not because she was dismissive and snarky. (Good for her, actually. I can get behind it. It’s certainly part of her brand.) But because she refused to entertain a different future, and more significantly, one that involves a different impression of trust and power.
Historically, yes, handshakes have been important in business. We all know about handshake deals and whatever whatever, that’s great. Personally, too. Raise your hand if your dad ever judged your new boyfriend by his floppy handshake. But if you start to examine all this a little more deeply in the context of our current world, our social climate, a global pandemic, and all the possibilities and opportunities that gives us for changes and shaping trust, power, and connection in the future, what do you see?
What do you really see?
I see a desperate grab for something many people have become increasingly uncomfortable or frustrated with. Outdated expectations that aren’t relevant to business or personal relationships any longer. And a laziness and resistance to investing more than six seconds into another human being in any situation.
Also, um, if you look closely, you might also see how this could apply to life things other than handshakes.
That’s the stuff that makes my skin crawl.
Passing up this incredible gift we’ve been given to quite literally change everything just because that’s how it’s always been seems like a waste. And possibly a slap in the face to God or the Universe or whatever you do or don’t believe in. This moment, this span of time, this blip in our lives, our generations, is a unique circumstance. It’s one that presents us with the chance to pause and reflect, then grow and rebuild.
Basically, if you’ve hated your house for a while? Now’s the time to remodel.
Behaviors, perceptions, ideals, relationships, any or all of it. What we choose to model for ourselves and others becomes the model. There’s life-changing power in that.
If scheduling the hell out of yourself and your kids feels terrible for everyone, model it differently.
If scrolling social media distracts you from spending quality time with people in your life, make a change to your social interaction model.
If your job is eating you alive and that’s not how you want to spend the rest of the time you have on Earth, make a new model for living in better integration.
If dieting and forcing yourself to do workouts you hate so you can lose weight makes you feel even worse about yourself and your body, begin to model acceptance.
If handshakes are an outmoded reflection of patriarchal society, create a new freaking model for cultivating trust.
Remodeling allows us to change the structure or form of things, to shape them differently – including our futures, and I honestly can’t think of anything more important right now.
I don’t have to tell anyone there’s no going back. You might not believe it, or want to believe it. You might fight me on it, dig your heels in, roll your eyes, tell me, “it is what it is,” or “nothing will ever really change.” But here’s the thing: that’s not true. Or, it certainly doesn’t have to be. And one choice, one change, one tiny personal disruption of the old model of what made up trust, power, and connection – that shit will rock the world.
Even if it doesn’t, I can guarantee it’ll rock yours.
You might not share my passion for the Anti-Handshake Movement (it’s a thing, I just made it a thing), but I bet you share my passion for a meaningful and fulfilling life. Guess what? That takes some work, some changes, some tough choices. It’ll mean leaving some old models behind. But that’s where the hope is.
A meaningful life means actively shaping it, and that involves not being dismissive of a different future.
For weekly love notes exploring different futures, sign up for emails from me here. If you need a little consulting on that remodeling project, email me or schedule a call below to talk coaching. And make sure you’re on top of your biggest opportunity for remodeling the future right now.