In defense of handshakes

It seems to be getting more difficult to trust that someone is going to do what they say they said they were going to do.

“It was a misunderstanding.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“So, sue me.”

When local newspapers disappear and can’t keep a close watch on the government, it turns out that costs go up. When people need a lawyer to make an agreement and a lawyer to enforce an agreement, costs go up. When it’s not clear whether or not it’s worth the emotional and organizational risk to engage with someone, engagement doesn’t happen and costs go up.

Handshakes matter. They make our transactions more efficient and we all benefit.

But handshakes matter even more as part of our internal narrative. When you see yourself as a weasel, or as a bully, or as someone who is entitled to win at all costs, you’re poisoning your ability to be a generous creative. When you tell yourself a story of insufficiency, that you’re the sort of person who can’t possibly find the emotional or financial resources to keep your word, you make everything smaller. And when you’re always looking over your shoulder at who might be catching up to your most recent shortcut, you’re spending less time looking forward.

The bullying/shortcutting/legalistic approach to destroying the honor and trust of a handshake can lead to a downward ratchet. “Well, if they’re going to be like that, so will I…” The alternative is to reserve your best work and your best ideas and your best partnerships for people and organizations that work the way you’d like to work. A virtuous cycle, one in which the selfish people can peck at each other while you work overtime to keep your word with people who deserve it.