… you recall that we are social animals. Touch is the first sense we develop and it’s a secret weapon for building relationships. When you meet face to face, break bread together, and share a space, you make a special connection. It builds trust. And there is science to prove it.
Research published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience supports what many of us already experience. The simple act of shaking hands touches neural circuits inside the brain that create a predisposition toward positive feelings, competence, and trustworthiness – all things we work hard to build in a business environment. That study, led by Sanda Dolcos of the University of Illinois, individuals were shown video clips of two people meeting in a business interaction. When the meeting started with a handshake the observers judged the host as more competent and trustworthy.
This test was also conducted while the observers were in an MRI machine. Here’s what was happening in the brain. A part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens was activated when the meeting started with a handshake. The nucleus accumbens is an important piece of the reward pathway that is linked to positive experiences such as excitement. Shaking hands makes someone more excited about working with you. Shaking hands makes you appear more competent. Shaking hands builds trust.
But what about team building and team performance? In another study (focused on touch as a whole), a team led by psychologist Michael Kraus (also from the University of Illinois – clearly a pretty touchy-feely place) tracked physical contact between teammates during NBA games. The study revealed that the more on-court chest bumps, high fives, and backslaps there were early on in the season, the more successful the team and players were by season’s end. The effect of touch was independent of salary or performance. In fact, according to Kraus, touch predicted performance across all NBA teams.
But today touch has become a challenge. Certainly, we need to have permission before shaking hands, and absolutely, it needs to be followed by handwashing for 20 seconds with soap and water or some hand sanitizer. This will be a new business ritual that organizations will need to adopt. But all of this assumes that you are in the same room, let alone the same city, as your customer,
supplier, or colleague. You have to get there. But how?
Business travel was exhausting even before all the new hoops we have to jump through because of the covid-19 pandemic. Now there are masks, new aircraft loading procedures, and social distancing. There is also the realization that you are sharing the airport with the other 50,000 people who visited today. And that’s before you even get on the plane. The plane is a closed
environment shared with hundreds of strangers. The team you want to meet are important, but getting there has never been more difficult.
SHAKING HANDS BUILDS TRUST AND MAKES SOMEONE MORE EXCITED ABOUT WORKING WITH YOU. HOW CAN YOU SAFELY TRAVEL TO BUILD THOSE CRITICAL CONNECTIONS?
Flying privately is a different experience. To start with, it does not begin at a major airport. Flights leave from a local fixed-base operator (FBO) terminal. FBOs are for private aircraft. That means fewer people and a smaller area, so it’s easier to maintain a high standard of cleanliness. Drive up to the FBO, leave your keys, meet the pilots, and away you go. No need to arrive hours before departure. Arrival time is the time that best suits your busy life. Not according to the airline’s schedule. According to your schedule. What is best for you. The aircraft leaves when you’re ready.
The aircraft is yours. You share the plane only with the people you invite. No worrying about hundreds of other passengers. No distractions. The time is yours. Time to focus on the task at hand and preparing for the meeting. Or you can socialize with co-workers and learn more about their families. Or just relax and allow your mind to wander and think….Oh, the thinks you can think!
The feeling of arriving at your destination refreshed and ready for the day is standard in private aviation. Your alarm doesn’t have to go off while it’s still dark out unless that’s your style. You won’t have to drive around looking for parking. Instead of sneaking out trying not to wake up the family, enjoy breakfast at home before you go. Or relax over coffee at the FBO – there’s never a lineup for coffee in an FBO. And there is no commercial “aviation hangover”.
This passenger-first approach is not new for the private aviation industry. Taking care of people is the root of any law or regulation in aviation, one of the most highly regulated sectors. Our experience at airports changed as a result of 9/11 and has now become even more restrictive with the covid-19 pandemic, but the changes are in support of safety. Pulling onto the shoulder is not an option, so every aviation operator, whether commercial or private, signs on the dotted line saying they will follow the rules and check the boxes. We are all accountable for slowing the spread of covid-19. Being responsible goes beyond having to follow regulations – the private aviation industry doesn’t simply take care of people because it has to; we want to.
Humans create rituals, take action, and make decisions in interesting ways. Instinctually, we want to end a meeting with a handshake. Have you noticed that at the end of a Zoom video conference we wave goodbye? Why is that? I never waved goodbye before. But there I am, like a little kid, waving goodbye. Trust is important. We make decisions emotionally and when the stakes are high
you need all the tools you can get at your disposal. Your superpower is your handshake. Your secret weapon to get you there is private aviation.
1 Sanda Dolcos, Keen Sung, Jennifer J. Argo, Sophie Flor-Henry, and Florin Dolcos. “The power of a handshake: Neural correlates of evaluative judgments in observed social interactions,” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 45 (12), Dec. 2012, pp. 2292–305.
2 Michael W. Kraus, Cassey Huang, and Dacher Keltner. “Tactile communication, cooperation, and performance: An ethological study of the NBA,” Emotion 10 (5), Oc.t 1, 2020, pp. 745–49. https://experts.illinois.edu/en/publications/tactile-communication-cooperation-and-performance-an-ethological-
First published in the September 2020 edition of The Business Advisor.