October 25, 2008: Barry Cauchon

According to a study released by the American Psychological Association in 2000, a firm handshake helps makes a good first impression. “The study, reported in the July, 2000 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that consistent with the etiquette and business literature, there was a substantial relation between the features that characterize a firm handshake (strength, vigor, duration, eye contact and completeness of grip) and a favorable first impression”.

Earlier this week, I volunteered at another high-powered speakers’ event in Toronto. Two of the speakers on the program were former Russian World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Both are world class champions in their related fields.

I had a chance to meet both Garry Kasparov and Dr. Muhammad Yunus and greeted them with a handshake.

  Garry Kasparov is the former Russian World Chess Champion often regarded as the greatest chess player of all time. For twenty years, (1985 to 2005), he pretty well held the title of World Chess Champion until his retirement from chess in 2005. He then entered Russian politics, and at one point, even attempted to run for President of Russia. He speaks 9 languages, has written several books and was here in Toronto to speak on leadership, innovation and success. Much of his speech dealt with the corruption in the Russian government and his efforts in politics to get the support of Russian citizens to slowly clean up the system.

  Dr. Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in Economics, is a Bangladeshi banker and economist. According to Wikipedia “He is famous for his application of ‘microcredit’, which is the extension of small loans to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty who are not considered bankable. These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit.

Due to the success of microcredit, many in the traditional banking industry have begun to realize that these microcredit borrowers should more correctly be categorized as pre-bankable; thus, microcredit is increasingly gaining credibility in the mainstream finance industry and many traditional large finance organizations are contemplating microcredit projects as a source of future growth. Although almost everyone in larger development organizations discounted the likelihood of success of microcredit when it was begun, the United Nations declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit”.

By further developing the microcredit system, and founding the Grameen Bank on this principal, both Dr. Yunus and the Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize.


Like many world champions, these men are revered in the different arenas they occupy in the public eye. We are awed by their feats and elevate them to the status of geniuses, expecting them to be strong, powerful and invincible. It’s interesting to feel this way about someone when you don’t know them personally. So when I had a chance to meet these outstanding men, I carried similar assumptions with me. 

After hearing his speech, my impression of Garry Kasparov was one of respect and admiration. Here was a man who had been a world chess champion for over 20 years and now was vigorously involved in politics to try to make life better for his fellow Russian countrymen. After his speech, Mr. Kasparov participated in a book signing for his latest book called “How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom”.

As the line up died down, I had a chance to say hello to Mr. Kasparov and shake his hand. I was surprised that his grasp was NOT firm and assertive like I assumed, but rather soft and gentle. He spoke quietly, joking that our first names were very similar. He was genuinely nice and considerate during the short time we spent together.


 After his speech, Dr. Muhammad Yunus did a signing for his book “Creating a World Without Poverty”. Again, the speech showed me why this man is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The compassion he has for his fellow man is what makes Dr. Yunus notable. Like Garry Kasparov, I was proud to shake his hand. And when I did, Dr. Yumus’ grip was also soft and gentle.

I started pondering how I could have met not one, but two gifted world class statesmen and found that their handshakes were not as firm as I had imagined they’d be.

And then it hit me. Their handshakes were a reflection of their kind-hearted characters, not their achievements. These are warm and compassionate men who genuinely care for others. Their handshakes, both soft and gentle, reflect those qualities. 

So what’s in a handshake? The experts are not wrong when they say that a firm handshake makes a good first impression. But I’ve learned from this experience that a soft or gentle handshake can also carry a lot of meaning about the character of the person that is greeting you. Judging a book by its’ cover, or a person by their handshake, isn’t the best gauge of their value. In my case, with both Garry Kasparov and Dr. Muhammad Yunus, both gentlemen, and their handshakes, matched perfectly.

It was a very pleasant lesson learned.





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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice site. There?s some good information on here. I?ll be checking back regularly.

  2. Thanks Susan. I really appreciate your comment. It means a lot.

  3. Michael Phelps and Barbara Walters were also on the agenda that day. Both were very interesting to listen to and I wish I had had an to opportunity to meet them personally but other duties called. I did stand near Michael during a private meet-and-greet session organized backstage after the event, but he was being ‘handled’ by too many people. All I could think was “Poor kid”! He’s only 23 and although a world champion in the pool, he really looked uncomfortable and unsure of himself. No pun intended, but he was like a fish out of water. I’ll write a blog on this soon.

  4. Can you give a link for the text of Kasparov’s speech? thanks

  5. Hi Doug: I’m sorry but there were no transcriptions made of his speech that I am aware of. I can direct you to Garry’s website. It may help you to find what you are looking for.


    This website also has a link to The Other Russia.org which is a pro-democracy coalition that Garry is involved in.

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