35 women-shaking-hands1“Can we do the handshake process right after the personal feedback?”, the Managing Director asks. I hesitate. I don’t quite know what he means by that, but I do know it is more business like and probably won’t fit at the end of a personal session. I have heard a number of people talk about ‘the handshake’ and never bothered to ask what they really meant by it. I always had a handshake in mind, which we all dreaded to learn as a kid when we needed to ‘be polite’ around older people. Later on the handshake became part of the first impression I made. I learnt that it does matter whether my handshake is firm –not too firm- and whether I look someone in the eyes. Overall the handshake has always been part of a meeting process: showing my positive intent to getting to know someone.

A few months later I met a delighted Strategy Director in a different company. She was really pleased because the top 50 in the company had just finished their ‘handshakes’ and she could now calculate the real expected growth figure for the coming year. It dawned on me that this woman was not just pleased that the top 50 had met one another ‘properly’. I can be pleased if my sons ‘properly’ acknowledge the person whose house they are running into. The Strategy Director did not seem to be pleased in the same way. A couple of years ago I would battle with my sons asking them to shake my parents hands. I learnt there is only a certain extent to which you can influence this process. I have found myself enforcing a handshake, which had lost all it’s meaning by the time the handshake would physically take place.

I felt the same way when I listened to the Strategy Director explaining her handshake process. In the matrix organization the global client directors were agreeing their joint targets for the year to come with their counterparts from the countries. The handshake serves as the symbolic act to reconfirm a commitment. I like the symbolic act for a joint outcome. Simultaneously I was not sure: are we confusing outcomes and objectives again? I think you can shake hands for a joint objective, but not quite for a joint outcome on a global level. If you do, you may easily lose the positive intent so naturally ingrained in a true handshake? How much room is there not to shake hands if you don’t agree? The most positive rituals can turn into a cold obedience culture, if not treated with care.