Shaking hands for the first time and picking up the name of the other person is harder than you might think. Most of us only hear our own name and afterwards regret that we didn't listen to learn the other person's name while we had the chance.
When we meet people for the first time in a business setting we usually shake hands. We also state our name and look each other in the eye. It's something that many of us do every single day.
Why would such a topic interest me? Well, there's a strange phenomenon in this cultural practice - a weakness that actually the majority of professionals "suffer from". Believe it or not, my stats indicate that approximately 5 or 6 out of 10 don't hear and/or remember the name of the person they greet in this way. Why? Isn't the name or identity the single one objective of such a traditional way to greet? I don't think it is. We may believe it is, but in reality, shaking hands has a completely different purpose.
Possible Reasons Why
I've actually thought about "the failed handshake" for quite some time. It's an interesting and telling tendency. I've mapped out a list of possible reasons for why this is the case. Maybe it's because:
- meeting new people puts a little scare in us and we protect ourselves by being very careful and aware of what we say and do...
- ...and thus we become much more focused on ourselves than on others the moment we leave our comfort zone.
- stating each other's name comes so close in time that we're simply not listening the first few seconds before and after we speak.
- finding the hand and looking the person in the eye takes too much of our attention...
- ...and thus picking up the name almost becomes "multitasking" and too much for us.
- we tend to focus on visuals in the beginning looking for facial expressions, clothing and looks, sound and scent.
- we often greet more than one person at a time and get names mixed up. Most of the people I've spoken with about this say they simply give up by not even trying when there's more than three new people in the room.
- we don't really care or don't really understand the importance of a name.
- we hear the name, but quickly forget as the conversation moves into preliminaries (our mind is focused on what to talk about to break the ice).
- simply lack of routine and/or an unconscious working style.
What is there to be done about this problem?
Simply being aware of our tendency to not listen and instantly remember a name makes a huge difference. Just focus on the name next time you shake hands with someone. Don't worry about appearances, what to say, how to shake hands or anything else. It will be OK. What's important is to hear and remember that name!