Beyond the Build


The Power of Shaking Hands

When I was visiting DC a few years ago, a friend, who was then Director of Personnel at the Supreme Court, asked if I would like a tour. Of course I would.

During my tour, she shared several bits of trivia on the building. The 5th floor basketball gym might be referred to as “The Highest Court in the Land,” and the brass spittoons still sit between the justice’s chairs at the bench, a carryover from many years gone by. Beyond all this, the thing that has always stuck with me the most was her comment about shaking hands.

Before every session, the justices make it a habit to shake hands with one another before they enter from behind the curtain to take their position on the bench. They wrestle with the toughest legal issues facing our nation, but still make time for this simple sign of respect. I was thinking about it recently, and how powerful touch can be as a form of communication:

  • Research shows that touch can build trust. Negotiations that involve a handshake can lead to more open discussion and better resolution.
  • Being physically present forces attention, and allows each participant to relay and process non-verbal cues.
  • Meeting in person allows you to convey feelings of excitement, frustration or concern not seen in other ways.

The list could go on and on. In our digital age of “conferencing in,” sometimes physical presence is what we all need. A simple handshake makes us all more connected, open and accountable. Maybe trust in business is as simple as showing up. 

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.