Whether you are going on an interview, meeting someone for the first time, or welcoming your colleagues to a meeting, your handshake will be among the first things that people judge you by. It will happen instantaneously, as Malcolm Gladwell reminds us in his book “Blink.” Your handshake will either build your credibility and reputation or it will create a moment of doubt and discomfort for other people on the other end of the handshake.
What kind of first impression do you want to make?
Watch the video below to find out more about handshake do’s and don’t’s – how to make a good first and last impression with a professional, confident handshake.
Elements of a professional handshake (USA style)
There are cultural differences in handshakes and other body language actions. Below are the core elements of a professional handshake for conducting business in America:
- Extend the arm, with a slight bend at the elbow. Be close enough to reach the person comfortably, but don’t invade their personal space.
- Look them in the eye, greet them with a smile, say hello and use their name. This will help you remember their name.
- Create the feeling of equality by having both people’s hands be straight up and down. Turning the hands over or under is an unnecessary act of dominance or submission.
- The hands should meet at the “web” of the thumb and the index finger. Go a little further than you think to ensure a complete fit. If you “miss” or stop short and it feels awkward, you can say “Let’s do that again.”
- “Hug” the hand by wrapping your fingers gently around their hand and apply equal pressure. If they have a stronger handshake, then match theirs; if they are more gentle, then apply less pressure. Again, you want to welcome them and create an atmosphere of trust and equality.
- 3-5 pumps of the hand, not too fast. Any more than 5 pumps can make you look creepy, any less than 3 can make you seem scared. Keep the eye contact during the 3-5 pumps.
- When releasing from the handshake, be aware of what you do with your hands next. Avoid shoving them in your pocket or hiding them behind your back or tying them up by holding stuff (papers, coffee cup, purse). Allow your hands to be relaxed and use them as communication tools to present yourself and your ideas more confidently.
- One last note: if you have the urge to hug someone and are unsure if this is appropriate or not, ask for permission first. For example: “Would you have a handshake or a hug?” Be careful not to get overly friendly unless you really know the person and the setting is conducive to more intimate greetings.
Avoid the 8 world’s worst handshakes
One of my favorite resources on this subject is “The Definitive Book of Body Language” by Allan and Barbara Pease. I talk about it in the video above. The authors address the issues of who should reach first in an handshake? They remind us that a handshake is a sign of trust and welcome. They discuss the issue of dominance and submission in the handshake process. But my very favorite section is when they introduce the 8 world worst handshakes. Below is a brief summary of what NOT to do, according to Allan and Barbara Pease. I wholeheartedly agree with them!
- #1 worst handshake = The Wet Fish
- #2 worst handshake = The Vise
- #3 worst handshake = The Bone Crusher
- #4 worst handshake = The Finger Tip Grab
- #5 worst handshake = The Stiff Arm Thrust
- # 6 worst handshake = The Socket Wrencher
- # 7 worst handshake = The Pump Handle
- # 8 worst handshake = The Dutch Treat (or bunch of carrots)
Let’s take a closer look at the first four world’s worst handshakes:
The Wet Fish
This is when the other person (or you) has a cold, clammy hands. It can happen when you are nervous and are sweating. One in twenty people suffer from a condition call hyperhidrosis, a genetic condition that causes chronic sweating. The cure? Always carry a handkerchief or tissues to dry off your hand before shaking.
The Vise Grip
This quietly persuasive style is popular among men in business and reveals a desire to dominate and assume early control of the relationship or to put people in their place, explains Allan Pease in his book. It is quite painful to receive and completely inappropriate. Don’t do this….ever.
The Bone Crusher
Ouch! This is a favorite among men who misjudge the handshake as an opportunity to express their physical strength and dominance. I have heard many men express strong displeasure about receiving this kind of inappropriate handshake from other men. It is neither welcoming nor professional. Handshakes are not a good time to conduct an arm wrestling match. Save your power play for another time.
The Finger Tip Grab
This sadly unsatisfying handshake is common when men and women greet each other with a handshake. It feels incomplete and tentative. It can result when people have been amounts of personal space and try to keep other people at a safe, comfortable distance. It is sometimes called the princess handshake – a delicate social touch that shows deference, respect and care for “a lady.” In business, it is always best to strive for equality. You wouldn’t give a man a finger trip grab, so why give one to a woman?
Other thoughts on handshakes
Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com editor offers some thought-provoking insights in her article Six Tips for a Perfect Handshake. She says “In today’s business environment, both women and men shake hands. The idea of a man waiting for a woman to extend her hand first is outdated, say Webb and Winick, and a woman should extend her hand. What about men? “Save the ‘I’m stronger than you’ type of grip for non-business situations with friends or competitors,” says Daniels. “Exerting yourself to give a stronger-than-normal squeeze to another man is not the way to show your dominance, and can set a confrontational tone for the rest of your association.”
Ms. Lorenz goes on to remind us that “Limp, lifeless handshakes tend to communicate timidity, passivity or intimidation. The “limp fish” and “barely touching” handshakes project a sense of distance and a ‘don’t touch me’ attitude, says Daniels. It’s hardly welcoming and no one, including women, is exempt from this rule.”
To learn more about the importance of body language and what you might be signaling with yours, read The Definitive Book of Body Language.