When we were little our mothers often held our hands when we approached a busy street or while using a crosswalk. They may have done so to keep us from darting into traffic or to reassure us that speeding vehicles wouldn’t harm us or perhaps both.
When we got a little older, we might have held hands with our friends as a sign of platonic friendship or mischievous solidarity. From our teens onward, holding hands with someone attractive of the opposite sex for the first time signaled romance and probably gave us a tingle of arousal and perhaps a wee twinge of apprehension.
As we enter adulthood, holding hands carries many different meanings for us. We infer the connotation largely from a combination of the context and our experiences.
Holding hands clearly carries many different meanings under different circumstances. As such, it’s not hard to imagine why people might wonder what we want when we extend the hand of friendship.
They might wonder to themselves, “Is he trying to twist my arm?” or “Will she use her free hand to pick my pocket?” And these days, one might be forgiven for worrying whether another’s hand carries some sort of virus that might infect us with a deadly germ of some sort or other.
Hand holding has become a popular organizational metaphor for forming relationships and taking care of people. Making clear to others whether our outstretched hand means safety, solidarity, salutation, sex, sarcasm, or something else entirely, is our responsibility as leaders.