Posts Tagged ‘cultures’

In our last article we talked about the importance of having an unremarkable handshake, one that people do not remember.  It shouldn’t be too long nor too short, neither too firm nor too soft.  Now we’ll see how the handshake fits into a smooth, professional business greeting.  First let’s build a proper business handshake.

A good handshake has eight key parts (don’t worry – – – they are easy to learn and to remember once you practice them a few times):

  1. Distance from other person (cultural) – – – stand 2 to 2½ feet apart in North America and Western Europe.
      • Any closer may be awkward and that can affect the handshake.
      • Any farther apart causes stepping into the greeting (appropriate when meeting a group of people but not one-on-one).
      • If seated (and able), stand up to greet the other person and shake hands
  2. Make eye contact just before the hands meet, then very briefly glance at the hands, to avoid a miss!  Smile FIRST, then glance at the hands, and then join hands.  And keep the smile throughout all the handshakes and into the subsequent discussions.  Avoid the linked “pump-smile”.  You know, where the fake smile starts when the hands first touch, lasts during the hand-pumping, then instantly evaporates when the hands separate.  That sends a message of insincerity and pretension.
  3. Relax your upper and lower arm and wrist so that when the hands meet, the other person feels no tension – – – the arm should move back and forth easily, to let the hands gently bump together in the initial grip and then find a comfortable mid-point in the space between the two people.  The subliminal message here is “I am relaxed around you and you have no reason to be tense around me.  I am friendly.”
  4. Join hands web-to-web, getting the hands firmly against each other without slamming them together.  If the other person is too fast on the draw and grips your fingers instead of your hand, stop, break the handshake, saying something like “you were too fast for me”, and then reengage the hands.  Under no circumstances allow another person to get a limp-fish or fingers-only handshake from you.  You cannot risk them concluding that it is indicative of your personality.  As awkward as it may be (and it usually isn’t, really) break the handshake and do it again.
  5. Drop your thumb around the other hand and wrap your fingers up snugly around the other hand.  If you have a very small hand in comparison to the other person’s, do the best you can.  Avoid at all costs a tense, straight-fingered handshake which uncomfortable to experience and sends a message of a person who is anxious or uptight about something.
  6. Gently squeeze the other hand, slightly lighter when meeting a woman but NOT when you ARE a woman.  More on that in a moment.
  7. Engage in two to four small pumps from your elbow, using only your forearm, while saying an appropriate greeting
      • Nice to meet you
      • Thanks for taking the time to meet
      • Good morning/afternoon/evening (when you can think of nothing better)
      • John speaks very highly of you (only if it is true – – – somebody may ask John what he said)
  8. Release the grip and (in Western business culture) step or lean back since the comfortable handshake distance is closer than the comfortable conversational distance

After the handshake is broken if an awkward silence begins, say “I have a card here somewhere . .” and dig one out.  It is a good ice breaker.  (In a future post we may discuss the card exchange ritual and how it differs in the US, Europe and Asia.)

We recently watched the Presidents of Russia and the USA on television as they shook hands at the end of a strategic arms treaty signing.  The US president’s arm seemed relaxed and his elbow was bent at a comfortable angle.  But the Russian President’s arm was straight out!  This was not caused by the difference in the height of the men.  The Russian had stepped back to begin the handshake, putting him too far away from the US President and he then closed the distance not by stepping closer but by extending his arm.  That made it impossible to offer a relaxed hand and wrist, an essential part of a comfortable handshake (see tip # 3 above).  I wonder what the US President thought when the Russian offered him his tensed hand and wrist, perched at the end of a taut, stiff, locked arm!  I might have concluded that I had scared the Russian stiff!  And maybe he had.

There are exceptions to the above rules and injury is one: An injured right hand is certainly a reason not to shake right hands.  So extend your other hand!  I have shaken left hands many times with folks who had sports/other injuries (even a nail gun wound on one occasion).

An irrational fear of germs is another reason not to shake hands.  Some extremely introverted and/or germ-phobic people really dread handshakes and avoid them at all costs (visions of Howard Hughes and Howie Mandel?).  But anyone who avoids shaking my hand needs to be sniffling and complaining of flu-like symptoms, so I know they are worried about infecting other people with whatever malady they have.  And if that same person, over time, always seems to avoid shaking hands with anyone, always blaming a new infection or injury, that may indicate severe introversion, a psychological aversion to touching other people or some other psychiatric/pathological issue.  Nice to know if you are considering doing business with them!  But if the person just avoids shaking hands with you, then the two of you may have some issues to iron out privately!  Either way, the handshake is the key indicator of much deeper issues.

Women’s handshakes deserve special mention.  The days of ladies being expected to offer limp handshakes are over.  Men and women expect firm handshakes from women, period.  And ladies, do not squeeze too hard since this can be perceived as overcompensating for the stereotyped woman-in-a-man’s-world.  Just cultivate a firm handshake using the guidance here.  And gentlemen, mirror the grip of the lady, offering the same level of strength and grip.  And remember that ladies’ hands are often smaller than yours and her fingers may not make it all the way around your ham-sized hand!

The two-handed handshake:  we sometimes see people adding their other hand to the handshake, putting it either atop or underneath their primary hand.  This seems to be more common in the southern US than in the north.  In an earlier time it was used to show very sincere appreciation but it is now mainly used at funerals to show deep sympathy.  We suggest it not be used in normal business circles: it invariably takes the other person by surprise and they are then unsure whether to add their own second hand to the mix and if so, where.

Cheek-Kissing, where people alternate 2-4 left and right bumpings cheek-to-cheek, is making a comeback in some circles and here we suggest you just go with the flow.  Continental Europeans seem to do this to Americans just because they know it completely confuses us and we blush and mess up the direction our head should go and look silly.  But give it try.  Turn heads to the left for the first “kiss” and then alternate.  The worst that can happen is an exchange of facial make-up.  But if you absolutely do NOT want to try it, as you approach the other person, just extend your hand for a handshake.  That sends a clear message.  (Be advised that Belgians and people in show business may also simultaneously lip-smooch the air each time the cheeks touch.   I never even try this – – – coordinating the cheeks and the heads is hard enough for me.)

Hugging upon greeting or parting is acceptable among friends and long-time business acquaintances.   It is usually done instead of a handshake so decide early-on if that is what you will do with someone and then when the time comes, open both arms so the hands are at least shoulder-width apart and at waist level to signal your intention to hug.  Then step smoothly into a brief embrace.  And here is a subtle but important point: Usually hugs occur last, after you have shaken the hands of all the other people you with whom you are not as friendly.  This is so you don’t inadvertently insult subsequent people who might now also be expecting a hug but instead get a handshake.

Order:  Shake people’s hands in order of the most senior person first, followed by anyone who helped arrange the meeting, then everyone else’s.  Save close associates and friends until last so you can hug them if desired.

Practice your personal handshake style with colleagues and friends.  And then an hour later ask them what they remember about your handshake.  If they reply “nothing” then that is perfect.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Flexible Focus #26: Leveraging your time

by William Reed on November 4, 2010

It is time to refine our vision of time.

Is time a clock, a calendar? Is time an agenda, a schedule? Is time something that we spend, waste? Is time on our side?

Our view of time is heavily conditioned by the language that we speak. If you compare the view of time across various cultures, you find that some cultures treat time as a measured resource, while others seem to measure time by the seasons or rituals, and other cultures view time as a fabric of story and images.

Because our view of time is so closely tied to the words we use to describe it, perhaps it is easier to redefine time as experience itself. We know from our experience that time travels in cycles or seasons. Many phenomena in nature come and go. We also experience birth, growth, and death. Perhaps we can think of time as change itself.

The first step to gaining a flexible focus on time is to free ourselves from the tyranny of a single cultural perspective on time. This doesn’t mean throwing away our calendars and clocks, but rather recognizing that this is not the only way to look at time.

A new kind of action list

The next time you make a To Do list, even as you arrange the items in order of priority, think about how arranging items in a sequential list already assumes that they are separate, and cannot be accomplished at the same time. That is an assumption that you may not want to make.

By arranging your items spatially on a Mandala Chart, you already have a framework that enables you to examine the items in terms of categories and relationships. This arrangement changes not just our view of time, but also of the items themselves. Instead of being a stack of things to do, like an inbox of paperwork, arranged on a Mandala Chart they become factors or variables that can be arranged and multiplied to create various results.

Think for instance of a networking event. How different your experience and results will be depending on the venue, the people, your attitude and purpose in attending.

Therefore one way to leverage your time is to arrange the elements of experience on a Mandala Chart, and to view the elements as variables you can arrange and combine as you like. This is already closer to the way we actually experience things, but you can influence the results and maximize the possibilities by doing it consciously.

Time frames in motion

Another way we experience time is – as frames in motion, such as in movie or video. The frame rate is the number of frames per second (fps) used in video, television, and movies, and it is typically 24, 25, or 30 fps, though some formats 50, 60, or more. A slow motion video of a bullet penetrating a wall may run as many as one million frames per second, slow enough for the eye to follow, but still frighteningly fast.

Many professional athletes and martial artists report seeing things in a slower time frame, as if they had more frames per second, and more time to respond to the motions around them.

Likewise, to a person inexperienced with that type of motion, the ball may seem to come so fast that you don’t even notice it until it strikes you, as if you had fewer frames per second and less time to respond.

At world class levels in sport, the ball may actually move faster than human reaction time could allow for response. The fastest speed recorded in men’s tennis for a serve was Andy Roddick, at 155 mph or 249.9 kmph. In motor sports, vehicles travel much faster than that, and yet with occasional exceptions, drivers manage to maneuver in this time frame. Skill, experience, and flexible perception enable athletes to respond with timing that goes far beyond fast reflexes.

Likewise, you can leverage your time by enriching your experience and deepening your engagement in experience.

Valuing your time

Perhaps the most powerful way to leverage your time is to value it as life itself. I wrote about this in a separate article called Oceans of Opportunity, suggesting that we think of time as a fluid force like water, which can be directed, contained, and channeled. We are all given equal access to this force, but how you use it determines whether you sink, swim, or surf.

If you treat time as a valuable substance, then you will not waste it. If you respect other people’s time as you do your own, you will begin to understand and find ways to leverage time, to save time, and to buy time.

Seasons of Time

One of the best metaphors for time is that of the four seasons, which is familiar even to people who live in climates which don’t have four seasons. The cycle and energy of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter give us a perspective on time, a reminder of change, of coming and going. Download the SEASONS MANDALA as a reminder.

It is worth reading and reflecting on the verse from the King James Bible translation (1611), Ecclesiastes III, which reminds us that time is everything:

3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

3:2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

3:5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

3:6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

3:7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

This was recorded in the 1960s by The Byrds as Turn! Turn! Turn!, the classic Pete Seeger song written in 1952, and its message is timeless as time itself.

Data Isn’t Information

by Wayne Turmel on August 10, 2009

Readers of this site are very tech savvy – in fact (without sounding too flattering) I’d suggest that we are among the most technically proficient workers in the world. I would also submit that many of us don’t use technology properly. I don’t mean our fingers don’t fly and we can’t multi-task-web-cam-Google-group like a rock star. What I mean is we send more data than information.

Here are a few examples to clarify further: You check your email inbox or your project collaboration site. There’s the spreadsheet you wanted with the numbers you need to complete your task. That’s data. The problem is that the person who sent you those numbers didn’t tell you that they were put together at the last minute because they’d be in trouble if they were late, that they are only based on someone’s best guess or that the minute they hit “send” someone called with a last-minute correction. That’s context and it’s what turns data into information you can actually use.

There is an old model that talks about the learning and communication hierarchy:


Data (the raw numbers or facts) turns into… Information (what it means) which, when we apply to our real life problems effectively, we turn into… Knowledge (how do we apply this contextual information to move the project/company/species forward and finally… Wisdom (how do we use this knowledge in the most far-reaching, strategic and positive way)

In the lightning fast-paced work world, data is constantly flowing. We have all kinds of tools that allow us to get the numbers/project status/debugs anywhere in the world in seconds. The problem is not with the delivery of data, it’s how it’s processed and turned into action once it arrives.

We need context in order to understand all the subtleties of what the data means and what to do with it. Context is established when we seek answers to questions like:

  • Why is this data important?
  • Where did it come from?
  • What are you supposed to do with it?
  • Who sent it and how much do you trust them?
  • Who will use it and why should they trust you?
  • In other words, the data and the tools that send it are useless without the human dynamic, which brings us back to technology. We have all the technology we need to send the data and create context, we just don’t use it as well as we might.
    Take for example. You are an Agile team that wants to hold your scrum and get back to “the important stuff”. You don’t waste time on social niceties and “fluff”. Effective web meetings are held to under 10 minutes, the way they should be. IMs are held to ten words or less and anything more social than a “Hi are you busy” is considered unimportant. But if you don’t have social conversation, or allow for time to get to know each other, do you really know what’s going on with your teammates? Do you know who’s having trouble, who’s really doing more than their share and who can really give you insight into the data you’ve just received?

    I hear so many times that web cams are a waste of good bandwidth; time zones mean it’s easier to just hit “send” and go to bed, knowing that the folks in Bucharest or Bangalore or Boston are professionals and will know what to do with it when it arrives; Group collaboration sites don’t need pictures of the teammates on whom your job depends and “Why does it matter what Mary or Karim look like as long as the work gets done?”

    It matters. The human component matters, and we ignore the tools – and more importantly the techniques – that let us build those human connections at our peril.

    I’d like to end with a thought provoking question: What are you doing for your team (and what help is your company giving you) to learn to send data as well as turn it into information?