While shaking my right hand, most people typically react to my misshapen hand in one of four ways:
1. The person quickly lets go of my hand as soon our hands collide.
2. The person lets go of my hand, quickly glances at it, and squeezes my hand again, attempting to apologize for the momentary panic.
3. The person touches my hand and either gasps or screams. The person then proceeds to apologize.
4. The person grabs my hand and squeezes it tightly, as if it’s a “normal” hand. (This rarely happens.)
Before going to church each Sunday, I have to prepare myself for the phrase I dread the most — “Stand and greet one another.” I have a semi-successful plan to avoid handshakes, but someone almost always feels the need to greet me with a handshake.
Do I mind shaking a person’s hand? No! I’m not bothered by a handshake, but I’m bothered by a noticeable reaction to the handshake. I dread those meet-and-greet moments because someone usually reacts negatively to my misshapen hand and makes us both uncomfortable.
Here’s the deal: Each person with a hand difference has a handshake preference based upon prior experiences and other factors. Although I can’t speak on behalf of everyone, I do know that there is one way to potentially avoid an uncomfortable moment: watch the other person’s body language. For example, during meet-and-greet time, I NEVER initiate a handshake. I try to avoid the uncomfortableness by keeping my arm pressed against my side or placing my hand in my pocket instead of sticking my hand out.
If you do shake someone’s hand and realize that person has a hand difference, try to avoid reacting. I don’t avoid a handshake because it’s physically painful, though sometimes that is the case. I avoid it because noticeable reactions, such as gasping or jumping backwards, are embarrassing and isolating. If you notice someone has a hand difference, try to smile and converse with that person. A negative reaction will make that person feel alone and uncomfortable, but a positive conversation will allow that person to have a “normal” social interaction. Sometimes, all any of us want is to just fit in!