I miss the handshake deals of the olden days!

By Younas Chaudhary

I miss the good old days when a handshake was the word, a genuine way to build trust with one another. Growing up in Pakistan, I saw marriages being arranged, real estate land deals being closed, promises being made, and deals being finalized through simple handshakes. There were no legal documents to sign, no formalities to keep one party from cheating the other. We were genuine, we trusted one another, and we honored our word.

Now, years later, we frantically seek authenticity in relationships. How hard is it to find genuine connections in our world, so rife with broken promises and lack of trust? I’ve repeatedly observed immigrants assimilate to the present culture and lose their genuine selves. The West, with its superfast highways, modern infrastructure, and luxurious lifestyles, is awe-inspiring, but it has an unfortunate tendency to cause us to lose our genuineness. But this is unnecessary. 

Most of us do not realize that, even while living in our modern, urbanized world, there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable and telling our life stories without any embarrassment.

In fact, your authentic self is the key to your success and well-being. It is always good to “be you,” and doing so enhances your self-esteem. Don’t you think a straightforward life in which you present yourself honestly is much better than a life spent hiding the truth?

In the seventies, I sold pots and pans door-to-door in Canada.  And when doing so, I had about 30 seconds initially, when the stranger opened his or her door, to establish trust and make my sales pitch. This cold call required body language showing total genuineness, to make a homeowner comfortable enough to open her door and invite a stranger inside. Our marketing guru Bernie Lofchick told us to meet the prospect with a postcard in our hand that said “Free trip to Hawaii!” with a big smile. He always reminded us that getting the door opened was half the job, and the rest depended on our skills in prequalifying our prospective buyers. Looking back, I am sure that the people who opened their doors and trusted me inside their homes found me to be authentic.

So what creates authenticity? Authenticity requires compassion and the skill to speak from your heart, to be straightforward and truthful, instead of making hollow narratives. This requires 100% transparency, honesty, genuineness, and the ability to fulfill your promises. If you cannot fulfill a promise, to be authentic you must let the other side know, so that they can work with you under different terms.

The value of authenticity displays itself in other contexts as well.  In the eighties, I was fortunate to gain the trust of a lender even though I did not have much of a track record in the oil and gas industry. But once the lender saw that I honored my commitments, that I was authentic in what I said and did, the mutual trust grew, and later that bank became a solid reference for me as I sought loans from other financial institutions.

With most of us currently still working from home, you may wonder how you can build authenticity on a Zoom call. It is the same method. You have to be your own self, show your true behavior, trust the person you’re talking to, and deliver straight talk without fake affectations on the screen. Even if it is a difficult conversation, it is okay to be vulnerable and uncomfortable.

Numerous training classes these days can teach you where to look on the screen, how to smile, what to wear, what to place as the background location of your call, and how to make gestures in a modulated, artificial way. But instead of focusing on all those things, I encourage you to just be yourself in all your daily dealings—on Zoom and otherwise. Being your natural self automatically builds confidence and trust with your audience. In fact, I find it unnatural and ironic for companies to force their workers to adopt particular dress codes and mannerisms while doing Zoom calls. Have they ever thought about their customers dressing up to buy their products and services in the middle of a pandemic?

Since March 2020, the workplace of the future has changed. Corporate leaders with fancy conference rooms are now stuck taking calls in their bedrooms and dining rooms. An era of empathy and genuineness has taken the place of an old, hierarchical corporate culture. There is thus little point in trying to hide your authentic self these days. Most everything about you is readily available and can be found out online in a matter of minutes!

I do really miss the days when handshakes were our promises. Today, our litigious society makes us take anticipatory bail through piles of disclaimers and documents even before letting us ask simple questions. I wish we could all be like the diamond traders in Antwerp where the handshake is still king and authenticity rules!

So, how can you be your authentic self? Here are a few tips:

  1. Be comfortable—in fact, proud—of yourself and your culture.

2. Be transparent. Don’t try to hide anything.

3. Just “be you”. You are a unique soul with lots of talents and strengths.

4. Talk straight from the heart and be compassionate.

5. If you cannot accomplish certain tasks or fulfill certain promises, let others perform such tasks. Do not overpromise and then make excuses.

Here are ways to connect with me

You can read more by purchasing my best-selling memoir “From Dirt Roads to Black Gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.