The Importance of a Firm Handshake and Good Eye Contact

By: Neil Mufson
 A Country School tradition started in 1934 is touted as a critical workplace skill for the 21st century.
Who would have thought that the ritual Dorothy Startt, our founding Headmistress, instituted in The Country School’s early days could today be seen as cutting edge? A December Wall Street Journal article entitled “Workplace Training Adds Handshakes, Eye Contact” confirmed the unlikely.

Kate King reports that those emerging into today’s workplace more often than not lack social skills and courtesies that are very difficult to teach. These deficits put new workers — and their eventual enterprises — at a disadvantage.

King offers the example of Scott Johnson, President of Certified Retail Solutions. He “doesn’t mind teaching his workers on the job. These days, to his dismay, that includes showing them how to shake hands. ‘You have to teach them how to look you in the eye when they do it.’”

It’s not just CRS that is filling these gaps. Corporations like Bank of America have developed programs that focus on teaching its workers empathy. Subaru teaches basics like “showing up on time and wearing appropriate attire.” Carilion Clinic in Roanoke instructs employees on how to have difficult conversations.

Mrs. Startt did her best to make sure TCS children wouldn’t emerge into the world with these needs. She made sure that every day at The Country School started and ended with a handshake. And to this day, in between, there is much focus on character, manners, politeness, and treating others properly and respectfully. We believe that the morning handshake not only welcomes children to school with the affirmation that they are known and valued, but also teaches critical social skills, promotes self-confidence, and enhances one’s ability to meet the world.

You may not know it, but I hold onto the hands of students who don’t make good eye contact as I greet them. I also offer occasional suggestions to those whose handshakes need fine-tuning and are too vigorous, too limp, or too rushed. All get better and better at connecting with others in a socially meaningful way that also conveys integrity, being in synch with society’s more formal norms, and knowing how to present oneself to others.

Small actions, taken consistently, can indeed have an impact on how people feel about their environment, others, and themselves. This YouTube video provides a fun view of what is involved in a good handshake.

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