Lady Business: Where's my fair shake?

The CEO of my company shook hands with my male co-workers but left me hanging

Published July 9, 2010 1:01PM (EDT)

I work for a large corporation. Three days ago, I was at a meeting at which the CEO was in attendance. After the meeting concluded, my boss introduced me and four others to the CEO. The others were all men. The CEO shook all their hands but when my boss introduced me, he just said "Hi!" and didn't extend his hand. I extended mine and then he shuffled around, said, "Oh yeah," and shook my hand.

Was it rude of me to stick my hand out there, asking for a handshake? Should I have been more assertive?

Best regards,
Not Shaken

Dear Not Shaken,

I don't blame you for being "stirred"! How a-BOND-inable of that guy to give you the COLD-finger and say "Dr. No" to your offer to shake ... um ... hands.

Look, the good news is that I'm out of James Bond puns, but the bad news -- for your boss's boss -- is that he seems like the CEO of being an awkward jackass, by letting his transparent discomfort around a girl in the workplace show like an unzipped fly on a podium-less speaker.

Miss Manners would tell you that he was wrong not to shake your hand because the protocol when it comes to this situation is to let the woman initiate whichever handshake, high-five or bear hug she deems fit in the situation, and to reciprocate accordingly -- but here's my addendum to her take. Think of etiquette as a dance. In these modern times, nobody is telling us anymore, "The girl has to wait for the boy to invite her to a dance, unless it's a Sadie Hawkins' Day Dance, because that's still a thing" or "Only a boy can ask a girl to dance" or "Once you're dancing, make sure not to lead unless you have a prostate and love car chases." Here's the only rule: Once two partners are on the dance floor, they should abide by the Paula Abdul-ian method: two steps forward, two steps back. Likewise, if you extend your hand to another human being, he or she should shake it, not shuffle around.

So, whether or not you felt weird about extending your hand, he was weird not taking it. That's on him, and yet, awkward isn't barren: Awkward begets awkward. Somebody acts like you did something wrong just because it made them uncomfortable, and all of a sudden, you're uncomfortable too. If only confidence worked the same way!

At least now you know about this guy in time for your next interaction. Let's hope it's somewhere there's an open bar and a lot of European people. Maybe repeated double-kiss assaults will wear him down in time for you to drunkenly offer him a hearty wave.

By Julie Klausner

Julie Klausner is a New York City writer and performer. She is the writer of Salon's Lady Business column and the author of "I Don't Care About Your Band."

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