Episode 28: January 30, 2009
by Lisa B. Marshall
I got “fished” today by a physician. For those who shake hands as much as I do, I am sure you know what I am talking about. It’s that limp, cold, and clammy hand that’s masquerading as a handshake.
How to Shake Hands
I wondered, why does she shake like that? She must not realize the impression she’s making. Specifically, one study suggests that a person with a weak handshake is perceived as introverted, shy, and not open to experience.
But that study was done here in the U.S. The doctor was a foreign national and handshakes vary by culture. For example, in France, Guatemala, and Japan handshakes are limper than in the States. In Germany they’re firm, but very brief, and in Singapore, they are longer than in the U.S. (about 10 seconds compared to three or four seconds here).
It’s very likely that no one ever trained this physician on how to shake hands following North American standards. So today’s episode is a step-by-step “how-to” for her and anyone who never received training on how to deliver an effective North American business handshake.
A good handshake begins with eye contact, a smile, and good posture. Long before you extend your hand, you should begin to make a connection, an emotional connection. If you are a regular listener you already know that eye contact, smiling, and good posture are three very powerful non-verbal behaviors that communicate confidence, trust, and sincerity. They make you more attractive, approachable, and memorable.
A good handshake begins with eye contact, a smile, and good posture. Long before you extend your hand, you should begin to make a connection, an emotional connection.
If you need to shake someone’s hand and you’re sitting, stand up; it’s a basic sign of respect. As you stand, quickly and discreetly make certain your hand is dry. (If necessary press it against your side. Or, if you regularly have sweaty hands you might try a product like Driclor.)
Next, move toward the other party. The idea is to meet in the middle, ending with your left foot slightly forward. It’s like a right-handed batting stance; it’ll give you balance and leverage should you need it.
Next reach forward with your right hand, keeping your elbow in and slightly flexed. By the way, it’s always the right hand, unless the other person’s right hand is unavailable. This means, when you are networking, keep drinks in your left hand, so that your right is available for shaking. Your hand should open. Your palm will be perpendicular to the floor and your thumb will be pointing upward. Be sure to fully expose the web of your hand—that’s the fleshy part between your index finger and thumb.
It’s critically important that the web of your hand touch the web of the other person’s hand, first, before your fingers wrap around. In fact, this initial web-to-web contact is the key to a successful handshake. Many people think it’s the firmness of the overall grip, but really it’s the tightness of the connection at the webs.
By the way, this is where a good stance can help you out. What happens sometimes is that the other person doesn’t extend his or her hand fully, stopping short. So, to ensure web-to-web contact, you’ll need to close the gap by quickly shifting your body forward.
So, first, focus on good web contact. By the way, it’s OK to briefly glance down if you need to. Then wrap your fingers around the other party’s palm. And finally you squeeze. Researchers suggest that to be perceived as open and extraverted, you need to squeeze firmly. The strength of the grip should be strong enough so that you’re applying and feeling a comfortable pressure, as when you hold a hammer or baseball bat.
When Things Go Wrong
Remember (guys) it isn’t a contest; it’s a greeting. Crushing grips are just overbearing and obnoxious. Limp fish grips are unimpressive. Both women and men make a good impression with a firm handshake. So, it’s important to practice and check your hand pressure with several people to be sure you are communicating confidence and camaraderie.
If your fingers are around the fingers of the other person, something went wrong. In this case, of course, you’ll need to ease up on the squeeze.
Another thing that sometimes happens is that the other person’s hand isn’t perpendicular to the floor. Some researchers suggest that a palm facing down communicates authority, while a palm facing up communicates submission. Depending on the situation, you’ll need to decide if you want to gently correct this or not, by gently moving the other person’s hand during the shake.
To end the shake, some people like to pump once or twice. You can do this, but you don’t want to linger too long. Again, three to four seconds is typical. Once you feel the grip of the other person loosen, you should let go.
Always observe handshake subtleties. It’s a good habit to form. In business, we typically shake before and after a meeting. You’ll want to notice if there are any differences between the first and second shakes. Did the second one last a bit longer? Did the person stand a little closer to you? Did the other party smile more at you? These are all indicators that the meeting may have gone well.
So there you have it, the nitty-gritty details of how to initiate and execute an effective North American business handshake. Today, I had to bite my tongue. I almost said to the doctor, “Hey, would you like to learn how to shake hands?” Instead, I decided to write this episode.
This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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If you have a question, send email to email@example.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.