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December 3, 2007

The Handshake is History


I just came back from a presentation, accompanied by three of my employees, in which the client was represented by five people. A four-on-five meeting. That’s 20 handshakes. This is out of control.


I’ve been in and around the business world for more than 20 years. It would be more years, but I’m not as old as my wisdom makes me seem. Still, it’s enough. I have probably shaken hands with at least 20,000 people during all that time. And that doesn’t even count the people you have to shake hands with when you walk into church, when your neighbor comes over, when you see thrice-removed step uncles-in-law at Christmas . . .


No more! The business world needs to come up with a new greeting. I don’t want to shake any more hands.


This has nothing to do with worries about germs or anything like that. If you don’t believe me, throw a piece of food on the floor and watch me pick it up and eat it.


I just think shaking hands is dumb. Think about it. You grab each other, then you shake. What the hell is this? “Dancing With the Stars”? If you really want to do this right, you need some rhinestone leotards and Screech from “Saved by the Bell.”


Shaking hands was invented by a man named Mordecai Willingham in 1691. He had developed a method for producing candles out of beeswax and he chose the handshake for his prospective investors as a way of illustrating the continuous pumping movement necessary to get the wax to just the right consistency for making the candles. The group enjoyed the little ritual and spread it throughout their village in early New England.


Oh, and Mordecai got his capital.


You do realize I just made that up, right? I have no idea how shaking hands got started, but it’s stupid, and it stops here!


I realize there needs to be some sort of greeting when people get together, but surely we can come up with something better – something that doesn’t require you to demonstrate any rhythm; something that won’t get you assessed on the strength of your grip; something that isn’t stupid, at least by comparison.


I have a few ideas.


The easy way out would be for us all to just wave to each other. Most of the time it’s probably all we want to do anyway. But business types need to feel that they’re doing something businesslike. Everybody waves. We won’t feel like executives if we do what people do on the beach.


So here are a few thought-starters. This is brainstorming. There are no bad ideas.


Throw Things At Each Other. I’m not talking lamps here. But a small, non-lethal object that the other party might have a reasonable hope of catching would be a fun way to start a business interaction. And it could be part of the preparation for the meeting to come up with the most interesting thing to throw.


Point Out Physical Flaws. This could be fun. I have a receding hairline. One of my employees is really short. I once met with a client who looked like he had shaved with his eyes closed and missed about 14 fairly obvious spots. Do you have any idea how badly I wanted to point this out? And just think how impeccable we would all look if we knew we were going to get called out on our flaws.


No to Handshakes. Yes to Milkshakes. This requires no elaboration.


Set Something on Fire. This would be especially useful in some of the offices you end up in, where people are trying to lower their energy costs or “reduce their carbon footprint” or whatever they think they’re doing. I hate freezing in meetings. But even when it isn’t cold, fire is cool. And there’s almost always something around that deserves to be torched. The only problem is there’s hardly any kind of business activity to follow it that’s as cool as the fire.


These are just thought-starters, but now that they’re out there, don’t you feel stupid going around shaking everyone’s hands? You should. There’s a million better things you could be doing. So circulate the memo. The handshake is history. Whatever takes its place can only be an improvement.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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