Earlier this week on Monday, February 13th the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House to discuss the strategic relationship between the United States and Canada.

If you haven’t followed the story, here’s a 90 second summary of the meeting that will catch you up to speed thanks to CBC News:

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A series of pictures inside the White House received a lot of attention from News Outlets and several pictures and videos went viral on Social Media.

This post will take a closer look at the interesting story behind this picture in particular: 

Image uploaded from iOS

To shake or not to shake? That is Trudeau’s question.

It’s important for us to back up for a moment and give this picture some historical context in order to understand its significance.

First of all, Donald Trump has been known to aggressively shake hands. He has done this in the past by pulling people towards himself and/or putting them off-balance. In terms of social dynamics, the purpose for these aggressive greetings is for Donald Trump to assert his dominance. In theory, this could give himself an upper hand in conversations and negotiations with world leaders. However, this power dynamic is arguably more important to the public because we as humans are naturally inclined to form quick and lasting first impressions. This is especially true when watching world leaders interact because average citizens are only watching the news. Of course, this is just a theory, but you should scroll through a few of the examples below for greater context on Trump’s aggressive handshake style so you can draw your own conclusion.

Example 1:


Example 2:


Example 3:

However, to provide an alternative perspective to the aforementioned theory, it is possible that Donald Trump may just thoroughly enjoy an extremely firm handshake.

Let’s fast-forward now to the first handshake between Justin Trudeau and the recently inaugurated President:


Now here’s a closer look from a different camera angle:

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If you rewatch the gif, it looks like Justin Trudeau is using his left arm to brace for Donald Trump’s handshake.

You can see Justin Trudeau held his cool when meeting President Trump and even had an upper hand. Looking more closely, Donald Trump is being pulled toward Justin Trudeau!

Here’s an interesting fun fact, Justin Trudeau is pretty strong:

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Justin Trudeau seen showing off his yoga skills by preforming a planche

But it’s debatable whether or not Justin Trudeau is as strong as the USA’s Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan:

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It’s good to know that a country’s leaders are staying in shape

Anyway, let’s fast-forward back to the photoshoot in the White House! Remember this?

Image uploaded from iOS

As readers and viewers of this news story, we can see why this picture ended up going viral!

Maybe a picture is worth one thousand words?

So one conclusion we can draw from this is that Justin Trudeau hesitated to shake Donald Trump’s hand here for a good reason. Based off of the initial handshake outside of the White House we can assume that Justin Trudeau and his Administration researched Donald Trump’s handshake style and informed him how to best approach the situation. That’s some serious research and social dynamics in action!

But wait, “Why should I care about these seemingly innocent handshakes between world leaders?” That’s a great question!

Western culture has a long tradition of handshakes impacting first impressions. Shaking hands can be considered a customary form of greeting someone as well as a way to indicate an agreement has been made. In this real world example, Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump are both representing their respective Countries in a public spotlight. In Model UN students representing countries shake hands all the time; however, delegates, chairs, and educators are not necessarily consciously aware of the importance that comes from paying attention to the body language and other non-verbal cues associated with something as seemingly innocuous as a handshake.

With all of that being said, Justin Trudeau hasn’t always been the best at handshakes; he’s learned a lot over the years.

President Obama shares an awkward handshake with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto - Imgur

President Obama shares an awkward handshake with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto

So how can you apply this information at your next MUN conference?

When shaking hands everyone has a different style but here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Have a firm handshake but also allow for both individuals to be on equal footing — the goal shouldn’t be to knock someone off balance.
  2. No two handshakes are the same and some it’s  necessary to improvise if the situation asks for it — check out the example gif below.
  3. Great handshakes comes across as relaxed and natural — this may take some practice so go out and shake some hands!

We can all take a page from Snoop Dogg’s Playbook:

The Snoop D.O. double G makes improvisation look easy

You should come prepared when shaking hands with people, be willing to improvise, and practice until your handshakes come across as natural and relaxed. Combining these tips together will put you on your way to having a world class handshake!

Stay tuned for more Model UN Skills in the News and email aaron@nullbestdelegate.com with any questions, topic suggestions, or guest post ideas.