Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, November 12, 2018
That is what my mother called a wobbly, weak handshake. I remember distinctly the admonition from my parents about the necessity for a good, firm grip. I was severely chastened if I proffered a slab of ham that simply sat there waiting to be squeezed as if it were a squishy stress ball. I was told that a man is measured by his grip, his handshake. Well, no surprise, mother does know best, and Michael Norton, Harvard Business School professor, has the data to prove it.
Centuries ago, you’d offer a hand in a greeting to demonstrate that you did not have a weapon, that you meant no harm. In today’s world, Norton and his gang wanted to see what effect a handshake has on the negotiation of a deal. In a study of the infamous grip, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, the results are in — “a handshake preceding social interaction enhanced the positive impact of approach and diminished the negative impact of avoidance behavior.” They showed that the “amygdala and superior temporal sulcus” were linked to a positive evaluation. Yeah, I get it, shaking hands is a good idea.
But do you do one shake or a few and before or during negotiations or as you leave the room? Barbara and Alan Pease in their book, “The Definitive Book of Body Language,” have delineated the three handshake techniques that communicate dominance: The upper hand, the double hander and the left side advantage. They say, if all else fails, just go for the vertical shake. And what about the famous “Seinfeld” episode where Poppy does not wash his hands? No shake there.
Now I am being a bit cheeky, I admit. But what is interesting is that I (like many of us) make an initial determination at the instant of the handshake. In other words, the research seems to be accurate, that a handshake really matters. In her book“The Million Dollar Handshake,” Catherine Molloy writes that only 18 percent of adults, men and women, initiate the perfect handshake, (complete with five seconds of eye contact) and that over a lifetime, the good shakers will earn a million dollars more than their peers.
So, let’s bring all this home to the entrepreneur — how and why do deals get done? I recently closed a financing, and as I think back on it, the key was not a handshake, but rather a disagreement. The venture capitalist and my client knew each other from a previous interaction, and they did not care for each other, to say the least. But after a couple of months, my client was “shepherded” back to the VC by a third party (the power of the warm re-introduction). They parried a bit and then my client, who had a very hot software company, apologized to the VC, a deep and meaningful apology for past sins. That did the trick, and the deal got done.
As I replay the scenario, I do not think it was the apology itself, rather I think it was the respect that my client generated by the apology. The apology bridged the divide. It was his genuine humility and willingness to fall on his sword that opened the door. Now, I will also point out that I am not sure my client did anything that he needed to apologize for, but that was not the issue. The key to the puzzle was that he took the first step that mattered, it was the tipping point. So maybe a handshake is indeed the perfect first step.
We all know that lasting impressions are formed in the first seven seconds of meeting someone, and the statistics say that 55 percent of that impression is nonverbal. To channel Professor Goldilocks on the psychosocial implications of the handshake, “Not too firm, not too soft, just right.”
However you make the human connection, what I am sure of is this — the majority of deals get done with and by and for people who like each other. If you are never going to see the person again, well maybe you can afford to be a jerk, but trust me, after 40 years of dealmaking, it is astounding the number of people who keep showing up again when I least expect it.a
Rule No. 584
“High five! On the flip side.”
— David Puddy