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The Problem With Immigrants and Handshakes

People Shaking Hands On Flags

All candidates in an interview process are attempting to impress the interviewer with their skills, education and attitude. New immigrants are no different in this desire. However, a new immigrant’s way of speaking, gesturing – even sitting – may sabotage their success.

In spite of the candidate’s motivation being in the right place and the interviewer attempting to fairly assess the candidate, cultural misinterpretation may skew the true picture of the candidate’s competency. The obvious outcome for the candidate is loss of opportunity of employment. What is not often considered is the corresponding loss of great talent for the organization.

Do you believe that a handshake conveys more than a simple greeting? Do you determine the degree of confidence the person possesses through that interaction? Do you evaluate their professionalism or business attitude? In everyday business, we unconsciously make these decisions, but if we determine our opinion of a person based on that first action at the beginning of an interview, we may be shortchanging the candidate and our organization.

How do you interpret a soft handshake? Or an extended shake, where the other neglects to release the grip? Or the aggressive squeeze combined with the determined pump?

North American business coaches suggest there is a ‘normal business handshake’ and employees should embrace this standard. However, our workplaces are not composed of a homogenous group of employees who all believe that a low pressure, brief handshake is considered a sign of weakness or a lack of confidence. Neither can we ignore that many Canadians perceive that a longer or stronger handshake is a demonstration of rudeness or aggression. When we receive a handshake even slightly different than our own, impressions are made and misinterpretations may occur.

If a low pressure, very brief, minimum motion handshake is on one end of a continuum, and a longer, stronger pressure, pumping handshake is on the other end, where does your handshake register? If you meet someone and shake their hand and their handshake preference is lower pressure than yours, what do you read into that fact? Alternatively, when you meet someone whose handshake is longer and has more pressure or movement that yours, what does that mean to you?

The handshake is not an international form of greeting, although it has become the universal form of greeting in North America and northern Europe. Immigrants from China, Philippines, India and Pakistan – countries where Canada’s newest immigrants mostly come from – are less likely to use a handshake as a form of greeting in their home countries. When they do shake hands, immigrants from these nations are very likely to give a quick, soft pressure and release form of the exchange.

How does this everyday gesture affect your opinion of them as a prospective employee or leader?

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