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Handshakes promote cooperation

Crucial influence on deal-making detected



Shaking hands at the beginning of a meeting delivers a lot more meaning than just politeness or knowledge about a ritual: Handshakes affect decisively deal-making outcomes – particularly in mixed-motive interaction. In 2 studies and 5 experiments with executives, MBA student and undergraduates a group of researchers from Berkeley, Chicago Booth and Harvard have not only detected this context, but also identified the underlying psychological mechanism:

Who receives handshaking in advance, ascribes his/her interlocutor a higher intent to cooperate. This triggers on the other hand one´s own cooperative behavior and finally both parties end up with a positive committment. Thus according to the academic conclusions better joint outcomes can be accomplished, regardless whether the situation is difficult or not.

This is even more interesting as the experiment shows 57% (!) socalled experienced negotiators who did avoid handshaking in the beginning of their respective meetings.

Having this in mind there seem to be huge potential for better joint results in negotiations and therefore for more sustainability in deals.

Handshaking promotes deal-making by signaling cooperative intent. Schroeder/ Risen/Gino/Norton, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2018, Advance online publication.



From the practice:

Shaking hands at the beginning of a meeting is in Europe doubtlessly more common than in the US where the study has been performed. And still there are some specific settings even with us where a lot of people feel pretty much uncomfortable when reflecting the question „Handshake yes or no?“: at court when encountering the opposing party in the aisle, at hearings when you as the candidate are called into the room and are faced with the jury and finally at a press conference when you as the speaker are observing journalists from selective media.

My recommendation is repeatingly the same: in dubio pro handshake.The current study confirms the experience of my clients in similar situations.


How do I explain these phenomenons? Well, physical contact creates emotional connection you can never entirely escape from. First because in our culture handshaking stands for respect in general – you need to fear less any bad treatment or foul play. And secondly because approaching proactively people and shaking their hands who are not friends by definition tells us something about your courage and your apparent or actual self-confidence. Reducing your opponent´s willingness to attack at least to a certain extent may be crucial in legal proceedings, in recruitement procedures and in challenging press events.

Concluding: there are only few possibilities how to hurt someone in a decent way more than neglecting or even rejecting this person´s offered handshake.

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