Let's Shake On It

Nonverbal behavior can have much more impact than verbal messages.

March 17, 2013

The handshake is a ritual to which, as Dear Old Dad impressed upon me, we dare not underestimate the importance. When I was a lass, Dad and I held practice sessions so I would be prepared for eventual business interactions.

“Look them in the eye, Lor,” he said. “Offer your hand in a perpendicular fashion, not an overhand or underhand manner. Meet their grip with even pressure, smile, introduce yourself, and repeat their name. Be sincere when you make your first impression and your relationship will be off to a good start.”

We also discussed the importance of clean palms, appropriate length of time to maintain the grasp, and the merits of reining in one’s enthusiasm—we don’t want to appear unctuous. Above all, cautioned Dad, avoid the perils of the “dead fish” handshake, wherein the proffered hand remains cold, lifeless, and limp. No one likes dead fish.

A recent scientific study addressing handshakes illustrates “nonverbal behavior has five times the impact of verbal messages on judgments of a communicator’s friendliness and liking for the message recipient.”

What messages can credit union staff send with simple handshake? Does the nicety occur with not only potential business partners or among staff, but with current and potential members? Or is it a forgotten practice that could be capitalized upon with no financial investment and great return?

Get a grip on consumer finances

Consumer finance trends shake up the news this week. “Consumer spending is increasing despite the tepid environment,” says The Financial Services Roundtable in Fast Facts: Consumer Spending.

Three takeaways:

  • The Census Bureau reports retail sales in December 2012 were up 4.4% from the previous year;
  • December 2012 consumer spending was at a four-year high; and
  • Consumer loans outstanding reached $1.1 trillion in the first week of January, up 3% from last year.

Women are making headlines, too, as “More Older Women Say Bah! To Retirement.”  “The number of working women over age 65 rose 147% from 1977 to 2007; those over 75 rose 172%.”

This trend is attributed in part to “economic travails” and increasing longevity. But for some women, ongoing workforce participation is the result of slow career starts. This cohort is not inclined to quit hard-won career gains.

Are slow career starts for women still evident? Perhaps, according to The Atlantic in “Is the U.S. Falling Behind on Women in the Workplace?

“Women’s workforce participation has indeed been fairly stagnant in the U.S. for about 20 years. In most of the developed world, it’s been anything but.” Data indicates the reasons for this circumstance “largely boil down to the family-friendly policies that have been adopted outside the U.S.”

The article speculates, “If the U.S. were to adopt a similar set of laws making it easier for mothers to get…into the office…around 82% of American women would have been in the labor force in 2010, instead of the 75% who actually were.”

Further, “Women in Debt [are] Less Likely to Marry,” according to Boston College. Evidently large student loan debt is at the heart of the matter and interestingly, “Men…are immune to this impact. Their marriage prospects are the same regardless of how much they owe for their education.”

The single life is expensive, however, and both men and women are more inclined to cohabit when they carry debt.

One last gender-related study reveals “Women Business Owners Upbeat, Boosting Marketing Spend.” “Some 81% of women business owners (WBOs) say they’re optimistic about their business performance in 2013…and 73% plan to invest more in marketing in 2013.”

Also note, “38% of women business owners plan to invest more in new talent in 2013 than in 2012.”

Can your credit union help these entrepreneurs shake things up?

Sweaty palms persist

The bad consumer news is “Fiscal Trouble Ahead for Most Future Retirees.” 

The economic downturn has had great impact on this cohort, along with rising health-care costs: “The nation is facing a huge retirement savings deficit—as much as $6.6 trillion, or about $57,000 per household.”

Advocates suggest greater emphasis on retirement planning from employers and the government, along with policy changes.

More pessimism to report as the “Number of Working Poor Families Grows as Wealth Gap Widens,” according to Reuters. There exists an increase in the number of parents taking low-wage jobs with fewer benefits: “200,000 more such working families—the so-called “working poor—emerged in 2011 than in 2010” and “About 10.4 million such families—or 47.5 million Americans—now live near poverty, defined as earning less than 200 percent of the official poverty rate, which is $22,811 for a family of four.”

Jobs in the service sectors often require long night and weekend hours, a reality that adds to the concerns for children in these families.

Part-timers are “much less likely to take advantage of employer-sponsored health care benefits than full-time employees, according to new data from ADP Research Institute,” reported in

New policy changes afforded by the Affordable Care Act to take effect in 2014 may change this, however, as those working 30 or more hours each week must be provided health care benefits. “This will transition a large segment of the part-time workforce to full-time status, putting companies in the position of having to offer benefits to more employees.”

It remains to be seen whether employers will adjust their budgets to accommodate regulations or adjust worker schedules to keep them employed at less than 30 hours weekly.

Of course, we all know that for credit union members, a secret handshake is not required. In fulfillment of our daily responsibilities, we will welcome consumers with open arms and warm handshakes to set the stage for long-term relationships based on good first impressions.

Think about the many positive benefits that can be realized for members and your organization with the simple, cost-free extension of reaching out with your open hand.

 When you do, you may never have to wave goodbye.