The Caring Two-Handed Shake

Hand print

Have you noticed how many older people use a two-handed handshake when they are greeting another person? They hold the position for a few seconds. There is usually a smile on their face. They seem to be really enjoying it. Often, they say a few words after they mention the name of the person they greet. Sometimes, they don’t seem to want to let go.

It is important for you to understand why they do it, and understand its subtleties.

Renowned anthropologist Ashley Montagu may have the answer for us. He has written a seminal book on the importance of touching. In fact, his widely-used statement says that “touching is the mother of all senses.”

To help us understand interaction among human, he explains that our interpersonal communications are divided between the “distance senses” and the “proximate senses.” The distance senses are sight and hearing. The proximate senses are taste, smell and touch. But, far and away, touch is the most significant.

How do you and your associates respond to the two-handed shake when it occurs? Are you at ease with it? Do you reciprocate and take a few seconds to enjoy the other person’s thoughtfulness? Do you understand how important it is to them?

The lesson for your retirement community is that the sense of touch for your older residents is significant. In particular, the double handshake is a warm, friendly and powerful way to connect with older adults. It shows affection and appreciation as well as the intensity of feeling toward the receiver. In one sense, it’s like a mini-hug.

There are many reasons why older persons use it. Among them, it is a visible sign that they care about the person they’re meeting. It shows their deep feelings for the receiver. For those reasons, your associates should use it as much as they can.

In my training sessions, I find it helpful to take some time to show younger people its value. Here are a few suggestions for your staff, especially younger ones, when using the double handshake:

  1. Use your right hand for the shake and your left hand to cover their hand. Hold it for a few seconds.
  2. Look the person in the eyes when he or she extends a hand to you.
  3. Repeat their name being careful to use their formal title – Mr. or Mrs.
  4. Add a reassuring smile as you are shaking hands.
  5. Use a firm non-squeeze handshake. Gauge your squeeze by the amount of pressure you receive from them. Always avoid a “gorilla grip” handshake. More than half of people over age 65 have some form of arthritis and you don’t want to hurt them.

The two-handed shake is sometimes called it the “politician’s handshake” because for years they have used it around election time to send off warm and friendly feeling messages that they care about the other person so they can get more votes. They understand the two-handed handshake creates rapport. That’s why they use it!