As a woman who grew into multiple executive positions over the past decade I learned quickly that introductions tell you much about what you are about to encounter next. Early in my career I somehow became a lightning rod for certain political fractions, that I had no clue even existed. But I am a fast learner. I learned to stand my ground and not always jump when I saw red. But I also learned when to sock it to them.
I was once attending a conference wherein I was at the hotel library talking with a few colleagues. The lobby was busy, loud and even raucous at times. Then, a new network colleague (rather associate) I had just met a few months earlier entered the lobby and headed to the registration desk. He looked over and I smiled and waved hello, contact using on with my conversation. Two days later I was embroiled on the silliest of issues. This man had complained to the powers that be that I was not warm enough in my greeting. He had expected me to go over to him while he was at the counter and hug him. This became my hugging incident. It was used to try to paint me as culturally incompetent. The next time I went on to see that individual and the many instances thereafter, I never hugged him and never shook his hand. There was no point in shaking the hand of someone who was predisposed to to dislike and badmouth me. I took pride in not shaking his hand ever again.
In another instance, I took a different tactic. I was giving a presentation when I was repeatedly, rudely and purposefully, interrupted by a small group of people. One of these, included someone who was in some position of authority and who had some nice job title. I won’t go into the details of the situation, but she ended up being demoted for how she treated me publicly. The next time I met her she was arranging my travel as a special invited guest speaker. I barely remembered her to tell you the truth. But when I came face to face with her, I readily shook her hand. What point would there have been in further dehumanizing her as she had already fallen hard? Despite her mistreatment of me, I had moved on. There was no point in kicking a person when they were down.
Greetings are nuanced and can take on a life of their own. You can send a strong signal on whether you accept a person’s hand or not. A handshake will be illustrative of one’s path going forward.