I do terrible things to my secretaries.
I snap at them “Stand up straight! You look like an old woman.” Or “How can you wear shoes without socks in the dead of winter?” Or “What do you mean you can’t touch type!” Or “Good grief, you can’t answer a telephone like that!”
If I smoked a rancid cigar, barked orders from behind my desk with my shoes plopped on top of a pile of memos, had three telephones, and barked, “Buy,” Hold,” or “Sell,” into each one, the picture would be complete.
Except that I don’t smoke, have no clue what’s going on in the stock market, and am more likely to sing at the top of my lungs “Figaro….Figaro…Figaroooo…” than to bark.
I do, however, do the aforementioned Terrible Things.
The latest, to my poor (name changed to protect the innocent) secretary Natalie. Beautiful, intelligent, eager, kind and competent Natalie.
Let me tell you a little about her. She has beautiful skin, a pretty pert nose, gorgeous long hair, wonderful eyes that look fearlessly and with great curiosity in any direction, and a handshake like … well, it was a bit disconcerting. Like squeezing a clump of faded rose petals.
Or, at least, that was what her handshake was like. Past tense. Until I began my terror tactics.
I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but one morning when we were standing together over my coffee pot – a shrine in my office – I snapped, “Shake my hand.”
Hers (like members of Tennyson’s doomed Light Brigade), being not to question why, she immediately stuck out her hand.
I dropped her hand in horror and exclaimed, “Good grief, Natalie. What’s wrong with you? Shaking your hand is like holding an empty glove!”
Natalie looked at me with embarrassment and concern.
"I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it,” she said. “That’s how I learned to do it in school.”
“What? Why? Huh?” I exclaimed.
“My teachers taught me that my handshake should be feminine, so that it doesn’t
“Well, that’s stupid. You don’t have to prove your femininity to anyone. You are feminine. You’re gorgeous. You’re smart. And you’re strong. But you have the handshake of a nerd. A victim. A coward. A coward, for God’s sake! Come on. Give me your hand again. Now, shake mine as if you mean it. As if you own the world. As if you want Essence of Natalie to come flying through your fingertips like bolts of lightning. As if you are a person. Not a wimp.”
And she did.
One tiny little act of intimidation, and a girl with a wishy-washy handshake was turning into a woman with a tiger in her tank.
I asked, “When you meet a person, what are the first two insights you get into who and what they are?”
She answered, “I don’t know.”
I said, “Their eyes and their handshake. Eyes are the windows to a soul. A handshake is the outward manifestation of character. A weak handshake signals a weak character. You can’t do anything about your eyes. But handshakes aren’t born. They’re made. Give me your hand again. Let’s practice.”
And we did.
Now, Natalie could shake hands with presidents, astronauts, and war heroes, and she would come out looking and feeling like an equal. Her handshake matches her soul. She is strong, intelligent, beautiful, and…
Wait a second here, Natalie. What did you just say?
You haven’t…WHAT? What do you mean you haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities? It’s Charles Dickens’ best book. Do you want to go out in the world looking like a cultural moron? Do you want your intellectual equals to scorn you? Do you…
Where are my three telephones?
Where’s my cigar?
Buy. Hold. Sell.
Get a grip.