Guest Blogger Ralph Heath: Shake or Fist Bump? What's a Company to Do?
The other day I walked into a new-business presentation with seven or eight committee people; some I knew and some were total strangers, and my assignment was to convince them that we were the company they should hire to solve their marketing challenges. Bonding can be as important as demonstrating your strategic thinking. One of my favorite ad industry gurus called it "dating."
So I flipped on my extrovert switch and went around the room doing precisely what my father taught me to do back in 1957. I introduced myself by looking them straight in the eye, committing their name to memory while clearly stating mine, and giving them a firm handshake. Not a dead fish handshake, as my father warned. Years later when I entered the business world he suggested I pass out a Heath candy bar to everyone I met, but I nixed that idea as being a little too corny. I love my Dad, but he often acts like he was born in 1918, which in fact, he was.
After our big presentation I went home and picked up the local newspaper and read that the President of the United States, the Center for Disease Control, my personal asthma doctor, and other notables were all recommending that we stop shaking hands. I panicked as I struggled to remember through the fog of revisionist history the look of horror on each of those committee member faces as I had forced myself on them by quickly grabbing their hand and passing on gosh only knows what kind of dreaded disease. I was momentarily certain I had single handedly lost the pitch, as my other two partners did not follow me around the room acting like the Prince of Denmark, as I had clearly done. My partners are both female and I'm guessing they didn't get the "dead fish handshake lecture" that I did, although my daughters did. My daughters rank it right up with my birds-and-bees lecture, which I am certain only traumatized them momentarily. I believe they secretly enjoy their father's lectures.
The current handshake controversy reminds me of the 1980s dress code evolution, when all men wore a suit and tie to work. And then things loosened up and we went casual. HR people struggled to define the new dress code. Blue jeans are prohibited but black jeans, if they are not too faded, are OK. Talk about walking through a field of landmines. Funny how it seems less complicated now then it did back then.
Same deal with the handshake. Do we ignore years of tradition? Do we do the fist bump? Do I deny my own father? Being the socially conscious kind of company we are, and not wishing to horrify any germaphobics in these swine flu infested times, we decided it might be best to address it verbally up front before you act like the Prince of Denmark. We might say, "So what do you prefer, the fist bump or a traditional one-on-one germ spreading handshake?"
I'm not sure we came to any definitive conclusion. We don't want to offend any potential customers. Especially when we are attempting to "date" them.
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About the Author: Ralph Heath is a managing partner in Synergy Leadership Group and a motivational/keynote speaker. He writes a blog called Thoughtful Leadership and Marketing and recently released his first book, Celebrating Failure, The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes, and Thinking Big. Contact him, but not his germs, at Ralph@RalphHeath.com
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