Handshakes to Hugs: Making and Deepening Connections

Making and deepening connections is not the easiest of things these days, but I would like to share with you three stages to make a close friend out of an acquaintance. I call it “turning the handshake into a hug.”

  1. Awareness stage: Connections are vital to growth and being visible is a crucial first stage. This is the handshake stage, where introductions are made. At this stage of conception, suspicion is usually high and intentions are being scrutinized and possible motives assessed. Be genuine because of the fragility surrounding this stage. Be interested in the person, give them your full attention, and don’t attempt to show off, compete, or come off as prideful. We can agree that first appearances leave a lasting impression but if you use this stage to prove how smart you are, you will leave a lasting depression. Listen carefully and intently ever so often contributing to the conversation with an open ended question, but never try to top them. Topping someone in a conversation resembles kids on a playground trying to see who has the latest and greatest toy or game. Genuine interest shows the person that you see them as valuable and important enough to be heard. We all want to feel important. Listen to their views as they talk to get a glimpse of their heart and passion. At this stage it is more important to be interested than interesting. If you can read between the lines you will get to know what’s at their core. Don’t force things at this stage. Embrace the process and let it come naturally and observe their body language and their voice differential when they talk about various subjects. Ask questions in a way that doesn’t sound like an interrogation but rather like someone who wants to know more about them. If we navigate this initial stage well, then the outcome of this stage is a follow up meet, a face to face sit down, a second interview, exchange of phone numbers etc. Sometimes, you won’t get past this stage with some people and that’s okay. Don’t force the issue just move on. Getting past this stage means the person is ready to share with you one of their most valuable resources; time.
  1. Testing stage: This is the make or break stage. What each person does reflects back on the progress of the relationship. Keeping commitments at this stage sets the tone of the relationship. If it’s a meeting, honor it. Do your best to make it and if you can’t, make contact and agree on an alternate date and time. Ignore this and the person will feel like they are not valuable and the relationship reverts to the first stage or ends. At this stage there are expectations placed and meeting them is crucial to development. These expectations vary depending on the type of relationship. They should be realistic (don’t compromise your values to meet an expectation) and if they are not realistic be warned; you are embarking on a toxic relationship and you should pause or stop before you get in too deep. It is important to prepare for the meeting or appointment since this shows that you value their time and you were looking forward to the meeting. Recall the things that were said in the awareness stage and build on them. If they shared something personal in the first stage like a family member, a sickness, a job search, a possible opportunity etc., lead off with it. When you mention these things, the person will realize you were paying attention. This will be the green light for them to open up and give more. After pleasantries, start with, “You mentioned something about your ____________ last time we met and I am interested in learning more.” Or “Did you get a chance to ___________? It sounded important to you when we met.” This creates empathy and mirrors your care about what is important to them. Your body posture is equally important. As they talk, don’t slouch, fold your hands, look at your phone, or at your surroundings, but lean in and show that you want to capture everything they say. Don’t lean in too much or it will look creepy. Just enough to show you are engaged. This stage is central to the direction that the relationship will take. Will it grow or deteriorate?
  1. Reciprocating Stage: This is where the relationship has clicked and there is a frequency or wavelength developed by which effective communication happens. Everyone is willing to do what’s necessary to keep the relationship intact as the relationship stock increases. We can call it a give and take. Everyone is playing their part for the good of the relationship not for the benefit of themselves. This stage is rewarding because synergy is realized as a symbiotic relationship grows. Dependence and trust widens, transparency deepens, and communication soars. Don’t get me wrong and assume that nothing goes wrong in this stage. Plenty can go wrong. As closeness develops, conflict looms on the horizon similar to bugs being attracted to light. Conflict is inevitable when people are getting close. The differences we enjoy about each other are the breeding ground for the conflict we seek to avoid. I compare this with sharpening knives. Knives get sharper from friction. Conflicts test the mettle of the relationship in this stage. If the relationship survives conflict it is strengthened. Conflicts can also reveal cracks in the relationship that have gone unnoticed and require repair. The question that always comes up at this stage during conflict is, “Is this relationship worth holding on to?” This question is answered by observing the deposit to withdrawal ratio. Is the person making zero deposits but substantial withdrawals, draining the relational account? If they are going through a rough time it is understandable, and being there for them is part of investing in the relational account. But if they cease making deposits with no explanation, while still making withdrawals it might be time to reassess the relationship. Confronting them about it and seeing signs of change will deepen the relationship.

Lastly, I would say, always trust the process. This won’t happen overnight as this post seems to suggest. Time, as well as the quantity and quality of the interaction will determine which stage you are in and when the next one comes in. Next time you are in a room with some people you don’t know, use these stages to make and deepen a connection. You might turn a handshake into a hug.


Always cheering you on!

Waiyaki M. Waiyaki

Discover Your Treasure


  1. Developing good friendships and relationships are essential in the world these days. Handshakes to hugs will help build this very important social part of life. Excellent Brother David, thanks.


  2. This is a very rich article. Thank you for outlining the process and the stages. Sometimes we turn handshakes into hugs in haste, just because we feel we need friends or to fit in, then end up in regrets. Thank you. Keep up the awesome job.


  3. Very interesting the article teaching us alot on building a relationship within the people we meet every day. I am also thinking about those who want to have a hug before a handshake. My question is whether that is a habit or just a custom way of doing things? I will love to see if I will apply the three steps.


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