By Stewart Grant
How much can you read into a handshake? Perhaps more than I would’ve expected.
Count me among those in Canada who may have been uneasy about how well our young prime minister would fare during his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.
However, I must say that Justin Trudeau made a great showing this week and, as ridiculous as it seems, it all started with a handshake.
What? Why am I talking about handshakes? Well, like most things the past year, Donald Trump is the reason. Trump is a notoriously bad hand-shaker, and it appears deliberately so. In recent public meetings with both Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch, Trump has attempted to show his dominance by jerking the other guy off-balance with an aggressive pull-in maneuver during the shake. It’s odd. It’s just not the way these friendly handshakes are supposed to work.
So how would Justin Trudeau fare? He rocked it. One Canadian, known as username mark_tags on Reddit, described it well: “Great showing by the PM. Look at JT use his free left hand/arm as a brace against Trump’s shoulder as they meet, protecting against the initial pull-in (a patented Trump handshake move that scuppered the Japanese PM). You then see JT cock his right arm, elbow against his ribs, and keep his hand tight against his chest. He even turns his hand palm-up, almost shaking in a pulling, downward motion, completely neutralizing Trump’s leverage. He maintains gaze, and Trump’s the one to look away first. Handshake diplomacy at its finest.”
Even though it was just a successful handshake, to me it emphasized a couple of things about the Canadian Prime Minister (full disclosure: I voted for Stephen Harper).
Firstly, Trudeau is tougher than he’s often given credit for. Before overcoming the odds to win a Liberal majority in the last election, it’s also worth recalling that the scrappy Trudeau soundly defeated the much-tougher-looking Patrick Brazeau in a charity boxing match in 2012 (it’s worth a watch on YouTube if you haven’t seen it). Trudeau is not the type to get pushed around.
Secondly, in watching the Trudeau/Trump handshake video, you could sense the intense preparation that led up to that moment. Trudeau and his team had clearly studied the pre-game tapes and prepared for the meeting. It’s also fair to assume that the Canadian delegation was equally prepared for the other, more substantive parts of the summit.
Preparation and practice are hallmarks of success. Every last detail counts – even something as simple as a handshake.
Following the visit, it was equally revealing to see Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer comment on “the incredibly productive set of meetings and discussions with Prime Minister Joe Trudeau of Canada.”