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Submitted by Dani Martin on


I would love some advice on how to handle this situation in the future.

On 3 occasions a volunteer hasn't returned my handshake in the generally accepted way. Once he didn't respond to my offered hand at all. The second time he was sitting when I approached him. I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. He didn't stand up and I received a weak handshake while he said "yes I know who you are." Last night at a gala event the scenario was repeated. This time he was holding something in his right hand so I got a crazy left-handed, with the hand twisted around thing... I won't even call it a handshake.

I have accepted that he's a complete non-gentleman. I know there's nothing I can do about that. My question is how do I respond at the time to this akward and unprofessional interaction? He's an influential volunteer and donor so there are usually many other folks around during our meetings, including my CEO and several of my staff.

Thanks for any advice!

citius's picture

Clearly a handshake is not part of an effective greeting with this individual. Insisting on a handshake will only make things worse. We all encounter these situations from time to time. I recommend that you do without the handshake or look for alternatives.

I have an older friend who has a degenerative condition in his hands that causes some of his fingers to curl closed. A handshake is impossible. We clap each other on the back instead. (I only recommend this for friends.)

I refuse to shake hands with a couple of individuals. I broke my right thumb severely a few years ago and it did not heal well. If someone tries to squeeze my thumb against my palm, it can be extremely painful. If they repeat the technique after I have informed them of my condition, I refuse to shake hands with them again.

So, my best advice is that if this individual doesn't shake hands with anyone, just let it go. If he just doesn't shake hands with you, doublecheck your technique. It may be too aggressive for this individual.

Dani Martin's picture
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Thanks for the response, Paul. I considered the option that he may not be physically able to shake hands or use his right hand. I observed him shaking hands with several others last night. I didn't notice any signs of physical difficulty. I don't have any other indications that my handshake is too aggressive for him or others. To be candid, I believe there are other issues at play and that this is an indication of his lack of respect for me, particularly as a professional woman.

I agree that continuing to insist on a handshake is ineffective with this person. I will continue to have regular interactions with him in front of senior and junior staff. Do I simply say hello and not offer my hand? Doesn't that reflect poorly on me?

Again, thanks!

Mark's picture
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I think you ought to, in most situations, still stick out your hand for a handshake. He's a rude and unprincipled person who believes that insulting someone in public - to refuse a handshake directly or indirectly is to do so - is his right, and it is not.

If you meet him one on one, and there are not "handshakes all around", then you can avoid doing so. But if he is an adult male, he knows the rules of polite interpersonal interactions, and he's manipulating or ignoring them to attempt to be rude at your expense.

Ignore his slights. He's a jackass, and not to be trusted or respected.


Dani Martin's picture
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Thanks, Mark! I appreciate your guidance. As always, your insight is so valuable.

TomW's picture
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[quote="mahorstman"]He's a jackass, and not to be trusted or respected.[/quote]


is that really fair to say? It's not really a behavior that we can observe.

I'm not trying to be sarcastic. I'm wondering where we draw the line between "He was acting rudely repeatedly" and "He's a jackass."

Mark's picture
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Yes, it is.

I am quite familiar with Dani's work, having known and coached her for 10 years. I am well versed in her firm's board structure, and the rules and norms of behaviors therein. What she has described - particularly as it relates to interacting with younger females (executive or otherwise) and in her geography - convinces me quite conclusively that he is actively avoiding what he knows to be reasonable AND EXPECTED FOR HIS ROLE as a way to undermine one person, at the expense of the organization which he purports to support and serve.

Selfishness of this nature is neither behavior nor a pattern - it is intentional malfeasance, and wrong.

One draws the line when one knows the person, knows the situation, trusts the reporter, and the behavior is repeated with impunity in situations that make the behavior all the more obvious and unacceptable.

The first time is grace.

The second time is a trend.

The third time, with supporting inferences and years of insight, creates the beast.

Aggregated behavior is not only just aggregated behavior, but also sometimes something more. All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing, and nothing sometimes starts with the political correctness of not calling incivility by a name that calls others to action against it.

Or something like that. :wink:

Yes it is.


thaGUma's picture

[quote] I observed him shaking hands with several others last night. I didn't notice any signs of physical difficulty.[/quote]

That's the killer. If you observe different actions in his interaction with others then you have every right to put him in the Jackass folder (do not use this folder naming on your email system - HR get upset). Then it is in your gift to decide whether it is necessary or beneficial to improve the relationship. You state this is an influential volunteer and doner. There is probably a need to maintain a relationship, even a low level working arrangment that allows both of you to co-exist without affecting others.

I would push the boundary a little, making sure you are second or third to shake his hand in a group where he normally would behave reasonably. If he then treats you or your handshake differently, he will likely be exposed. Pier pressure will usually be enough to encourage him to better interaction. Once intiatiated, it would be prudent to avoid open disagreement with him, tread on eggshells. A few repeats of this should be enough to 'train' him to deal with you in a professional manner.

My personal approach is to go in on his terms and move the relationship slowly towards a more workable arrangmeent. This takes time and assumes the other party is willing to at least engage. Not a hi D approach, but softly softly...

davidleeheyman's picture
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Obviously Dani and Mark have facts that I don't have so the story I'll relate may have no bearing. I live in Israel and have worked in environments where a significant portion of the staff is comprised of very Orthodox Jews. The men will not touch a woman under any circumstances. It is a religious issue for them. If a woman extends her hand for a handshake it would most likely be ignored. This causes some discomfort but at the end of the day the feeling is that it is less discomfort than would be experienced if they were to accept the handshake. My assumption is that the same would be the case of very Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who is working on Wall Street.

Just today we had an employee return from maternity leave. She knew that we had a new employee who is very religious. Since she is aware of this cultural nuance she asked my opinion as to whether she should extend her hand. I advised her not to offer a handshake. This way nobody feels uncomfortable even if he would have accepted. So while the specific situation that Dani is facing may be different I feel that it is a bit unfair to say that it is not within someone's rights to refuse a handshake.

colleen's picture

If an Orthodox Jew or anyone else working in the US deliberately ignores an extended hand (from a man or woman) then he is being rude. There are other options besides shaking her hand and ignoring her offer.

He could smile and nod (maybe even a slight bow) and say "It is very nice to meet you. I'm afraid my religous beliefs prevent me from shaking your hand but I welcome the gesture."

Ignoring someone is a blantant sign of disrespect in the US and is absolutely and unequivocally rude in our culture.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Most Observant (and the correct term is observant, Orthodox being a Christian term) Jews don't shake hands with the opposite sex. However, most have the good sense and grace to explain themselves (ie, it is a direct commandment from the Bible).

Further, many (not all) of them who regularly interact in the secular world also hold by a custom that it is more important not to embarrass another person, so they end up shaking hands even though they would prefer not to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex.

That being said, let's not make an issue out of something that most of us will never experience and takes us away from the actual problem Dani is experiencing. After all, painting people with the same brush is equally rude and uncalled for.

Mark's picture
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Easy folks.


stewartlogan's picture

Burn a copy of the "Handshake" podcast and present it to him personally. :D