What We Lose When We Can’t Touch

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What We Lose When We Can't Touch

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

I understand why we are keeping our social distance and replacing a handshake with a wave, but I already miss what we are losing as a result.

It’s so simple, that it’s easy to miss its impact. You simply extended your hand for a friendly handshake. But hidden in this simplest of nonverbal greetings, was an opportunity to pick up cues about the other person – and to make your own positive impression.

People constantly evaluate each other by the way they shake hands. Here are a few common handshakes – and how they are most often interpreted:

The bone crusher. An overly macho grip where the person squeezes too tightly gives the impression of being overbearing or insensitive.

The dead fish. A cold, clammy, and limp handshake sends the nonverbal message, “I’m nervous, insecure, or timid.”

The finger grinder. Similar to the bone crusher, and sending a similar aggressive message, this is the handshake where one party squeezes the fingers of the recipient.

The stiff arm. When someone offers a straight-arm handshake, creating more distance between him or her and the other person, it’s processed as distrust, aloofness, or reserve.

The glove. It’s the handshake, where two hands reach out to clasp and surround another’s hand, like a glove. Because the glove handshake has been so widely associated with politicians (and since the credibility of this profession has plummeted) it’s interpretation has morphed from a gesture of sincere liking to one of faked concern.

The perfect handshake is perceived as warm, friendly, and sincere. It still has its own rules:

1. Make sure you have palm-to-palm contact and that the web of you hand touches the web of the other person.

2. Offer your hand with your palm facing sideways. When a person offers his hand with the palm faced upwards, it is considered to be a submissive gesture. Conversely, when someone offers his hand with the palm faced downwards (or twists his hand downward during the handshake) it sends a message of superiority. But people who offer a sideways hand to shake send a message of equality and confidence.

3.Shake hands firmly — especially if you are a female. Women with a firm handshake make a more favorable impression and are judged to be confident and assertive.

Handshakes are so powerful because of the power of touch.

Considered the most primitive and essential form of communication, touch is so powerful and effective that we are programmed to feel closer to someone who’s touched us. The person who touches also feels more connected. It’s a compelling force and even momentary touching can create a human bond. A touch on the forearm that lasts a mere 1/40 of a second can make the receiver not only feel better but also see the giver as being kinder and warm.

We are now living in a Covid-19 world that has removed the handshake from our nonverbal vocabulary, and I mourn its loss.

Handshakes are far more that a polite greeting, they are often the foundation for a relationship. A study on handshakes by the Incomm Center for Trade Shows showed that people are two times more likely to remember you if you shake hands with them. The trade-show researchers also found that people react to those with whom they shake hands by being more open and friendly.

Isn’t that remarkable? Through a single handshake you connect on a deeply human level. You also become more likeable, friendly and memorable. You can’t replicate this on Zoom.

While Mark Twain was in London, someone started a rumor that he had died. When a major American newspaper printed his obituary, Twain reportedly quipped: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I hope this is also true for the death of the handshake.


About the Author: Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.(https://CarolKInseyGoman.com) is an international keynote speaker and seminar leader for corporations, conventions, universities, and government agencies. Her new book, STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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