The Handshake and the Power of Touch Handout



The Handshake and the Power of Touch Handout
"I can feel the twinkle of his eye in his handshake."
Helen Keller’s response upon meeting Mark Twain
People’s impressions of each other are set in the first 7 seconds. The handshake often
occurs during that time. Present the very best of yourself in that choreographed moment,
communicate the unique person you are.
How to shake hands
Reach out as you approach. Look at the person’s hand to avoid awkwardly missing. Put
your whole hand into their whole hand and hold their hand, as opposed to grabbing,
wringing or squeezing, fingers and palms touching. It can be firm and gentle at the same
time. Look into the eyes of your partner and shake a few times. When you stop shaking
you both know to let go. You have to be quite close to shake hands; you may want to
step back afterwards to converse with a more comfortable (American-sized) distance
between you.
No one can pinpoint its actual beginning. A common explanation is when early man
encountered a stranger, he held out his hand to show he had no weapon. From this,
supposedly, evolved the handshake.
Not so, says Brian Charles Burke, who is writing a history of the handclasp. "That idea
became popular in the 19th century and just took off." Instead, the Philadelphia historian
believes, the handshake meant: "putting your blood behind your breath." He explains that
ancient peoples distrusted the spoken word alone, and they used the handclasp to signify
their promise was backed up by the power of their heart - i.e., their blood. Thus, the
handshake connoted trust. That meaning of trust has survived to this day. People in
business often nail down agreements simply by declaring, "Let's shake on it."
The first documented handshake in human history appears on the monument of Kalhu,
showing the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III and Marduk-zakir-šumi I of Babylon shaking
hands in a public display of Assyro-Babylonian friendship. Archaeological ruins and
ancient texts show that handshaking was practiced in ancient Greece as far back as the
5th century BC in a depiction of two soldiers shaking hands on a funerary stele. The
handshake also has a rich history as a symbol of reconciliation or rapport. The Roman coemperors Balbinus and Pupienus Maximus put the handclasp on a coin in A.D. 238 to
signify their harmony.
The handshake as a sign of reconciliation figures prominently in our own nation's history.
On a commemorative medal issued in 1775, William Penn is depicted shaking hands with
a Delaware Indian chief at a treaty signing. When tribal dignitaries visited Washington
D.C., Presidents Jefferson through Taylor gave them impressive "Peace Medals" bearing
the President's portrait on one side and the clasped hands of soldier and Native American
on the reverse.
On September 27, 1945, after Japan's unconditional surrender ending WWII, Supreme
Commander Douglas MacArthur met with Emperor Hirohito at the U.S. Embassy.
Despite the belief of some allies that Hirohito should be indicted as a war criminal,
MacArthur shook his hand. The American commander felt strongly that reconciliation,
not humiliation, was necessary to achieve his goal of building a democracy in Japan. He
succeeded with the help of that handclasp.
The power of touch
The power of touch is huge. Touch instills trust and spreads goodwill, support and
encouragement. Touch releases oxytocin in the brain, which induces trust and
promotes bonding. We know that babies massaged sleep better and cry less. Waitresses
who touch their patrons get better tips and doctors who touch their patients get more
favorable reviews.
We are all familiar with the many styles of handshakes: the nervous hand wringer, the
Type A personality who shakes your hand off jovially, then quickly breaks off and moves
on, the one who holds on forever. A handshake can establish a first impression with
someone, whether it is firm and warm or limp and clammy. The varieties afford us a
"feeling" about the other human being. So often what we are looking for is sincerity,
authenticity. Who is this person? Are they solid, honest, kind, quick, smart,
compassionate? It has made its way to the highest levels of government and society
where agreements between nations are sealed.
Joy Javits, President, In The Public Eye, Effective Communication

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