Everyone has been to more than their fair share of rubber chicken circuit dinners and/or grip-and-grin receptions.

That is you grip the hand of a real or prospective business colleague or a genuine friend, and an authentic or artificial smile comes with it. This time-honored ritual can be traced back in sculpture to the 5th Century BC. Sir Walter Raleigh is credited by some as introducing the modern-day handshake in the service of the British Court during the 16th Century http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handshake


This ritual is all fine and good, but what happens in those (hopefully) rare instances when you are confronted with actually shaking the hands in a social situation with someone who you despise?

An essential requirement of our jobs as professional communicators is to treat business colleagues with respect that we would wish from them in return. For the most part, we are able to do exactly that. If not, we should be looking for a new line of work. However, there is always that someone with his or her own agenda, who does not have your best interests in mind.

Does that mean that you should go ahead and shake their hand in a social setting? What if you don’t want to? Do you take their hand anyway and complement that action with a plastic smile?

There is no doubt this is the easiest and classiest course of action. Shake that person’s hand and move on. At the least, you avoid the possibility of making a scene and you do not disrupt the proceedings.

Having acknowledged the easy way out, what about your convictions? What about sending a signal that this is not business as usual? What if you simply do not extend your hand and respond with silence? Is that hostile? After all, you have not done or said anything.

I was confronted with this dilemma the other night at a retirement reception for an adored former work colleague. And then, he walked in the door. I will refrain from using names or recounting the history behind my dislike of this person. They are not important in this case.

My strategy at that point was to work my part of the room, and let him work his. Hopefully, we would not come in contact. No such luck. He came right over and started shaking hands with my friends and colleagues and then extended his hand to me. I had to make a two-nanosecond decision.


My decision was to not respond. He quickly realized that I was not going to shake his hand. He said out loud, “Is there something wrong with your hand?” One of my former bosses interceded saying something about me not feeling well. My temperature was up to 98.6 degrees.

My adversary retreated in a huff. My former boss came over and noted that I declined to shake that certain individual’s hand. I acknowledged my decision and quickly pointed out my reasoning. He agreed with my decision, but I am certain not everyone will concur.

This is not the easiest blog to write for obvious reasons. I am not proud of my decision the other night, but I am also not ashamed of it. This was not an easy call, but I wanted to share it with you because many have been confronted with this same question. Do you hold your nose and get it over with or do you make a very uncommon stand and maybe sleep better at night? A grip and grin should be sincere. If not, then what is the purpose?