Power Grab: Handshakes And Hugs

Ohhh, is PeaceBang having fun analyzing these videos of (Not My) President Donald Trump making Alpha Male power moves on other world leaders.

Check this out, and come back here when you’re done so we can talk.

Let’s talk about dominance, children, and how you need to be savvy about how it works in ministry.

You may be loved. You may be admired as a holy person. You may be respected as someone who represents God in the world. Regardless of all that, you are going to get into power plays with people who either consciously or unconsciously want to show you that though they may respect you as their pastor, they’re going to p’own you on the field of wordly power and influence, say, the mission budget or the new building initiative.

Be ye wise as serpents and gentle as Jackie Chan. You may not be able to muster a power handgrip, but you need to be able to exude strength through direct and steady gaze, taking control of how people touch you, and where you are positioned in a room.

Every minister should know how to enter a room and greet people as a leader. If you don’t know how to properly shake a hand, give a seance and invite my Dad, who actually tutored all of his children on how to do this, and HE MADE US PRACTICE with him. I am so glad he did even though at the time it felt totally Captain Von Trappish of him to drill us this way.
The gist of it is that you put your whole hand in the other person’s — don’t just offer up the ends of limp fingers — and you firmly enclose their hand in yours so that you’re really clasping hands for a good long moment. You shake a few times with confidence, but not too hard, then open your hand while pulling back your arm to your side. Never crush the hand, and err on the side of gentleness without being faint.

If there is some reason to not shake hands (wet hands, cookie batter on your fingers, sickness), I like to make a light comment about that and mime shaking while smiling.

You need to take a strong and aware position going into a handshake so that you are never coerced into holding someone’s hand for an inappropriately long length of time (let’s call this The Trump Maneuver), so that you can offer a consoling pat on the hand with your other hand when necessary, so that you can quickly body block a hug, or so that you can help steady a fragile person who may need that physical support as much as your greeting. You need to be observant of body language and dynamics so you can lean in closer or bend down at the waist to those who need that and resist intrusion by those who are trying to belittle or dominate you. A very effective way of avoiding being crushed in a hug by someone whose size is dominating (which has nothing to do with their intentions or personality — it’s just a function of physicality) is to reach out your arm and slip under them for a kind of side squeeze. If shaking hands, take your left hand and give them a friendly pat or touch on the shoulder. It will put some space between you and you won’t get lipstick all over their tie.

I have more than once taken a step back, raised my arm at the elbow and used the flat of my palm to push someone’s hand away from touching my hair or clothing. Sometimes people have done this without thinking, and I just smile and gently press their hand away with mine, while smiling so they don’t feel attacked. To reassert my personal boundaries, I hold that person’s hand for a bit both to impart warmth and to make sure they don’t feel slapped away. I smile at them as if we share a funny secret which we actually do. That secret is, “Ooops, you forgot that I wasn’t your daughter and thought you could touch my face and that was a little awkward!” Or the secret might be, “You thought it was okay to put your arm around me while we’re giving this important talk, and I gracefully evaded your embrace, and now I have demonstrated that I can both think on my feet and protect myself from your sexist maneuvers and we both know it. Don’t try it again, honcho.”

Most of the time, folks are not conscious with their bodies and gestures. You be, though. And don’t ever break eye contact.

6 Replies to “Power Grab: Handshakes And Hugs”

  1. I love this. I, too, taught my daughters how to shake hands, as I had been taught by my father. One daughter was a 2nd grade teacher in public school in New York, where the children in the younger grades had to tell the teacher they were leaving the playground after the designated adult showed up to fetch them. She insisted that “her” children come up, shake her hand, make eye contact, and say “Goodbye, Miss Katy, see you tomorrow.” She was pretty sure she was the only person in those children’s lives who taught them how to shake hands properly.

  2. The art of the handshake is more important than many people realize. I once got a job because the owner/operator of a small business liked my handshake! [And I have decided against hiring someone based on her handshake. I had my mind made up as soon as I extricated my hand from her limp, damp grasp. It was awful having to go through with the interview which just confirmed everything her handshake had conveyed: no presence, no charisma, no sense of energy or vision — just a bland, sort of nice-but-not-very-well-formed person who wound up having poor references that validated my impression, or lack thereof. – PB]

  3. Make an exception for when you are dealing with American Indian people. Many offer a very soft handshake, more of a palm-to-palm touch, rather than to “shake a few times with confidence.”

    So when you see Alvin Standing Bear coming, dial it back.

    [This is so helpful! Thank you! I should have specified the cultural context, and I hope other people weigh in with more perspectives on when this kind of handshake is not the right choice. – PB]

  4. Also, try to pay attention to enlarged knuckles or other signs of arthritis. It takes real skill to firmly enclose their hand in yours without squeezing, so practicing really is a very good idea.

  5. Enjoyed reading the specific details about how you maintain personal boundaries firmly but with warmth and good humor. What a compassionate balance for yourself and others.

  6. Love this! I love your pointers on deflecting unwanted grabs. Wow. We should teach everyone this. The subtlety of not slapping, of doing it warmly and smilingly but definitely doing it. Defintely going to be talking abou this among my peers.

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