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Let me shake your hand 

April 3, 2017

So this guy walks into an office. It’s one rectangular-shaped room, not too big. He circles the perimeter of the room, shaking hands with Tom, Larry, Jim and Joe. He waves to me and says hi as he shakes Doug’s hand and completes the loop. He looks for a place to put his things and then he….

Well, so what’s the punchline? Yeah, I’d also like to know. 

Turns out, it’s no joke. It’s the “I don’t shake hands with women” phenomenon. And it’s perplexing, as well as common.

 The handshake is thought by some to have originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the hand holds no weapon.

While the handshake had several meanings in the ancient world, its use as an everyday greeting is a more recent phenomenon. 

It’s a common occurrence. An everyday greeting today. But why is it still seen by some men as being for only between men? 

Is it rude, sexist or a personal affront that he didn’t shake my hand? 

It’s not my first rodeo. It’s happened to me before. I work in a male-dominated industry. 

In fact, there are more research-based facts on the topic. To be quite honest, I probably won’t bother to peruse this University of Alabama paper from 2000, but please be my guest. 

[Side note: I did, however note this from the paper and it reinforces my existing opinions on the topic:]

Regardless of any empirical support for a relation between handshaking and personality, it is generally believed that the handshake is an important component of the first impression that one forms of a person.

My responses will continue to be dictated by my mood. Different times,  I have reacted by ignoring it and the situation and also by marching up to the person, hand outstretched and been the handshake initiator to let him know that it’s not ok to ignore my hand or me, in this scenario. 

I’m aware of my handshake. I take care not to give a wet fish or an overcompensating hard squeeze. If only others cared to be as aware of their actions. 

How would you react? Has this happened to you?

* Names changed to protect the innocent. 

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. lewiscraig2016 permalink
    April 9, 2017 04:31

    Thanks for posting this Abbe. The more perspectives are shared, the better for everyone. I wonder what was going on in his head.

    I wonder, because I may well have been guilty of the same. Even if well intentioned.

    At some point in adolescence, the cultural ‘norm’ became ingrained. Male friends – shake hands. Female friends – the friend hug, air kiss, or whatever alternate there was. Shaking hands with a female friend though was percieved as to distance yoruself from them. In that, it could easily offend a female friend to offer them your hand as opposed to the hug.

    Fast forward to recent years though, presumable when you’re also referring to. The lines seem more blurred. Now, females can be offended by the hug. Not that it’s ever felt overly comfortable to many. For anyone not overtly physical, this can lead to the awkward half-shake, half hug, hesitations, pull-backs and sighs that follow. Perhaps ‘getting it wrong’ is better than erring to less. If you fear the wrath that can be, holding back any physical greeting can seem the less bad option.

    There is always more to any situation. A first meeting in a professional setting. A catch up with an old close friend. These are the easy ones. The ones in the middle are quickly become grey. And I do have two very good female friends that are not keen on the hug and a handshake still just feels like I’m creating distance by doing so. So for them, it literally is a hi, a big smile, and genuine welcome.

    So thank you for your perspective. To see what might be felt by someone else can only ever lead to better. Thank you from me, and from at least one female somewhere in the future.

    Like

    • April 9, 2017 13:13

      Thank you for such a thoughtful reply. I’m happy to have a male perspective on this. To me, it seemed so straightforward. This particular case, and similar ones I’ve experienced, was a business situation, so there’s an air of formality. But it does go deep. It’s funny, I have friends I hug or kiss and others I don’t. Guess it’s kind of a dance. I tend to be a hugger in personal situations where I feel comfortable. Again, thanks @lewiscraig2016.

      Like

      • lewiscraig2016 permalink
        April 17, 2017 16:17

        Abbe, I thought you might be interested – I was yesterday introduced to a female friend of a friend and immediately reached out with a genuine handshake without hesitation. As I would for a male introduction. You’re post was very present in my mind. You never know, but I ‘m pretty sure from her response that she appreciated it more than any other awkward gesture or avoidance.

        Like

      • April 17, 2017 19:11

        Thank you for that feedback @lewiscraig2016 It’s nice you were empathic enough to note her reaction as well. Your gesture sounds like it went far.

        Like

  2. April 15, 2017 17:55

    I agree – this post is great fodder for thought on social norms.

    My response is also dictated by my mood. At work I will usually stick my hand out and often there is a little awkward pause as the conversation has already moved on seconds before making the afterthought blatant. and for the social circle, I would take a genuine handshake over the lame “I don’t really know you but I think I should hug you” move many people do.

    In parallel, why do women in social circles default to the hug hello even for other women that we don’t know? I tend to offer my hand to a woman I have never met and often get a hug in response. For me, I reserve hugs for people I know. And a lame lean in and pat on the back/arm is just as bad as a limp handshake.

    Like

    • April 15, 2017 22:25

      You bring up a few interesting points. The handshake as a social convention could really use a deeper look. And oh, a lump handshake…a wet fish, ugh. From women and men…ick, I’ve gotten them both. And I totally agree on the discomfort of hugging someone awkwardly professional or socially if I don’t feel like a hug is warranted. All this just points me solidly to the track I was on. I’ll just keep forcing those handshakes. Maybe it will stick.

      Like

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