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You don’t need to shake hands with me.

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I just had a face-to-face meeting with a prospective customer

It didn’t feel right

We were in the same room together

But didn’t shake hands at the start or at the end, when we agreed what we would do next

Not really sure how it went

This is how one of my coaching clients, a CEO of a digital marketing company, described the experience of his first in-person, socially distanced customer meeting.

There was:

  • No stepping forward towards each other
  • No reaching out to press hands together
  • No handshake

Why does this matter?

Handshakes are often the foundation of a relationship

They have been for a very long time, certainly in the Western world.  Covid19 is disrupting a practice going back centuries.

The greeting that is common today originated in times when people used swords for fighting. They carried them in a sheath or scabbard on their left side so they could draw them with their right hand.

Shaking hands, traditionally done with the right hand, became a friendly greeting. You weren’t holding a weapon and came in peace. It was a sign of trust that you believed the other person wouldn’t draw their sword on you.

Do we really need to shake hands now to build trust?

Stefan Stern of Cass Business School, in a recent article on Leadership references research showing that four things build trust:

  • Integrity
  • Benevolence
  • Competence
  • Predictability

How does shaking hands help us do all of that?

Perhaps it’s the power of touch.

Experiments have shown that we can convey a range of emotions through touch. If their arm or hand is pressed or squeezed, a stranger can correctly identify emotions, e.g. anger, fear, gratitude or sympathy that the other person is trying to communicate ,up to 80% of the time.

But in our “socially distanced” world, there is no hand shaking and may not be for a while.

This year, Psychologists at Goldsmiths, University of London, surveyed 40,000 people worldwide about their attitudes to physical contact in The Touch Test .

Whilst they found the vast majority of us feel we don’t have enough touch in our lives, there wasn’t much interest in a device that would allow us to shake hands remotely. Half the people surveyed said they would definitely not use technology to allow them to shake hands via their computer.

Yet many of us, working remotely, over the past 6 months, have managed to build and sustain new business relationships with people we haven’t been physically close to.

We are building trust based relationships remotely. How?

The Goldsmith’s survey showed that there doesn’t seem to be  much interest in a “digital handshake” . Yet the way we are using technology, especially one-to-one calls, can enable us to be more emotionally connected with each other, whilst physically distanced.

When we are on a one-to-one video call, we tend to focus more intently on the person we are speaking with. We are paying more attention to their body language and how we are responding to each other.

Extensive studies demonstrate the importance of non-verbal communication including the 7-38-53 Rule. Developed by psychologist Albert Mehrabian it states the 7% of meaning is communicated through words, 38% through tone of voice and 55% through body language


So an unexpected benefit of social distancing is perhaps reinforcing the importance of non-verbal communication, and improving the way we relate to each other.

Whilst it is premature to declare the handshake obsolete, perhaps it is less important that we believed.

What are you noticing when you communicate remotely?

What are others doing on video calls that is building trust?

What are you doing that is building trust?


John Drysdale

John Drysdale

John is a co-founder of Business Momentum. He coaches business leaders and teams to develop organisations where people are engaged, fulfilled and deliver exceptional results. He is supported by a team of coaches and consultants who have a track record of success working with senior leaders and team across a range of sectors.

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