The Handshake Snub

You don't have to have contempt for the other in a divorceAs I watch the President refusing to shake the Speaker’s hand, and the Speaker tearing up the President’s State of the Union address, they remind me of my divorce clients who have nothing but contempt for their soon-to-be-ex’s.

When I was in the army, there was a saying. Respect the uniform even if you don’t respect the man (or woman.) Both the President and the Speaker need to show respect for their offices even if they don’t respect each other.

These are not the role models I want for my children. I remember my father taking me to his job one day and teaching me how to shake hands with someone I meet.  “Always stand up,’ he said. “Look them in the eyes and put out your hand. Give them a firm handshake and smile.”

I’m from Missouri, where people are friendly and say “Howdy, neighbor” to strangers. If you refuse a handshake, you will get a bad reputation and people will not do business with you.

I worked for an older lawyer who was unfailingly polite to everyone he met, from the president of the bank to the janitor for our offices. He would smile, look them in the eye, put out his hand, and inquire about their spouse and children.

One day we had a deposition. The lawyer on the other side was young, handsome, and articulate. He wore an expensive suit, with cuff links and a tie pin. The older lawyer put out his hand toward the younger lawyer and introduced himself. His hand hung there in the air for several awkward seconds. I suppose the younger lawyer wanted to prove to his client that he was an aggressive advocate for him, but to me it just proved that he lacked basic civility.

It is possible to be both polite and aggressive at the same time. There are studies that show you get more in negotiation if your opponent likes you.  You actually can get more bees with honey than vinegar. A kind word (or deed) turneth away wrath.