Sales Strategies

Where Has the Handshake Gone?

Years ago, my husband and I were living in Germany so he could finish school. I was 6 months pregnant, and we had to drive 2 hours away to a little town called Ohlsbach to secure a place to live when my husband’s semester started back.

We found this elderly couple who was renting their entire ground level of their home. It was perfect for a budding family like ours so we scheduled an appointment with them. They gave us a tour of the house, my husband and them exchanged German, they shook hands and we headed to the car.

After we got in the car I asked my husband, “Did we not get the place?’

He said, “Oh no, we did. It’s ours.”

“But we didn’t give them a deposit.”

“A what?” Daniel asked

“We didn’t put any money down. We need to go get them some money to secure our spot here. How do we know they aren’t going to give the house away to someone?”

Daniel said, “Kate, I shook their hand. In this country, when you shake someone’s hand, that is your word and you don’t dare break it.”

Sure enough, we showed up three months later and the house was ours.

I still get goosebumps every time I tell this story. Why? I have been doing business in America for 25 years. I have had thousands of people give me their word or shake my hand, yet never follow through with their word.

A client promises to come through with money by the end of the week – he backs out.

A mother calls asking us to meet her and her kids at the park – she calls moments before departure and bails out.

A friend replies coming to your Christmas party – he sends an email bailing hours before the party.

A company contacts you for two years offering to partner with your company -when it comes down to sending an agreement they are nowhere to be found.

You pay a contract worker a deposit before work is done on your house – they run off with your money.

When you say you are going to do something. Do it. In life. In marriage. In business. In friendship. Follow through with your word.

Can we all commit to getting back to the handshake?


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  • Tanya

    Thanks Kate…I couldn’t agree more and commit wholeheartedly to the handshake.

    I think this issue of people not following through is indeed endemic in North America. AND people not following through on promises to others usually denotes that they’re not following through on promises to themselves. We set out to be this, then we become that. People not doing what they love makes them irritated with themselves, grumpier parents, worse citizens. Which is why I got out of what wasn’t working for me and into what was…coaching.

    Thanks again for the great insights.

    September 3, 2009 at 2:11 pm Reply
  • Billie Willmon Jenkin

    Unfortunately, your experience Stateside is all too common.”Forgetting” what one has committed to (and/or making commitments too lightly) has become “standard operating procedure” to the point that follow-though without a written contract (and threat of monetary loss) seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

    Can we rebuild confidence in ourselves – and each other – or have we “descended” too far? Parents, we hold the keys for our children’s sense of integrity. They will remember how reliable our handshake and “word” were long after they forget all the expensive toys we have bought.

    August 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm Reply
  • Wookiee

    Welcome to Germany ^^
    I live in Ohlsbach as a matter of fact and just did a random search to see if there were any blog entries about our little village.
    But seeing as how you were here in 2005 I assume you have already left.
    I hope you enjoyed your stay very much though…

    But to give you a little reply on what you wrote:
    I think that in big cities like Munich or Berlin, you will find many people who will bail out from such agreements. Here in the more rural regions, a handshake is like a promise and it’s very rude to break that.

    April 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm Reply
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